Siren Collaborator Mary Konstantopoulos speaks to Australian goalball winger Tyan Taylor about how she found the sport and what it means to compete in Tokyo.
The first time Tyan Taylor saw goalball being played was at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics. She thought it was the coolest thing she had ever seen.
Taylor had grown up with ocular albinism and nystagmus which impacted her vision and goalball was the first time she had seen a sport which included people that looked just like her. Such was the impact on a young Taylor, that a couple of weeks later she went to visit her grandmother June, and had a conversation with her about it.
“I told her that I went to the Paralympics, saw goalball and how cool it was that there was a sport out there exactly for people like me,” said Taylor. “I told her that one day I wanted to go to the Paralympics.”
June demonstrated nothing but support for her granddaughter and encouraged her to pursue her goalball dream. But it took a little while to happen.
“At that point, the goalball conversation was a conversation I had had with my grandmother when I was 10,” said Taylor. “I didn’t really take it any further at that point because I was so busy with school and I was only beginning to adapt to getting vision aides and some additional support.”
By late high school, Taylor’s vision support teacher had an inkling that she wanted to work with children in schools. An opportunity had arisen to teach goalball and Taylor’s teacher suggested that this might be an opportunity she would like to take advantage of. The only challenge was that Taylor hadn’t played goalball before, so it was suggested that she might like to give the sport a go.
From there, in the space of just a couple of months, Taylor was part of a team that won the Goalball for Schools competition. She attended Nationals in Melbourne and her team only lost to the reigning champions, Queensland and she then found herself invited into an Australian squad camp to see if she liked the sport.
Now it is eleven years later, and Taylor is about to attend her third Paralympic Games with the Australian Belles.
Taylor’s experience talks to the importance of visibility. Without the opportunity to have attended the Paralympics 21 years ago, Taylor may never have discovered goalball.
“If I wasn’t exposed to the Paralympic movement, then I would not have achieved what I have achieved,” said Taylor. “Even off the sporting field, I have met so many people in the disability industry and I work in the disability industry too.
“But a lot more comes out of the Paralympic movement like the importance of inclusive sport and the power in participation.”
Taylor is now in Tokyo and is preparing for a Paralympic Games like no other. But the experience of watching the Olympic Games from home and seeing how much joy it gave to the Australian public gives Taylor plenty of confidence about the role that the Paralympics can play.
“I’m excited, but nervous at the same time; I think it is normal to be nervous,” said Taylor.
“It’s been an absolute roller coaster with the pandemic and getting our heads around how things will look and all the requirements in place to keep people safe.
“The Olympics are done now and they were awesome, it’s now our turn. We are going to play our hearts out and see what happens.”
For those of you that haven’t had the chance to watch goalball before, Taylor’s advice is to check it out.
Goalball does not have an able-bodied equivalent and has been specifically designed to be played indoors by athletes with a vision impairment. The aim of the game is to roll the ball into your opponent’s goal while your opposition tries to block the ball with their bodies.
“It is a fast-paced game which forces you to use your other senses,” said Taylor. “Sight is not a sense you can use because you are blindfolded. The ball has bells in it, so you have to really use your hearing.
“It is an equal playing field when it comes to vision.”
Apart from her opportunity to watch goalball at the 2000 Paralympic Games, it is important to acknowledge another part of Taylor’s story and that is the affirmative role her grandmother played.
When a 10-year-old Taylor told her grandmother about her big dream, her grandmother did not even hesitate before encouraging her. Unfortunately for Taylor, her grandmother never got the opportunity to see her compete at a Paralympic Games.
“I have a tattoo on my ankle on her behalf, so she is always with me, and I like to think that she has been there for every game,” said Taylor. “We all know kids dream big, so I am always grateful that she didn’t even hesitate and told me to ‘go for it’.
“I play for her.”