WMU News

WMU students in Sydney for Paralympics

Oct. 18, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- The excitement of the 2000 Olympic Summer Games may have died down, but the thrill of international competition is just beginning for two Western Michigan University student athletes and thousands of others who are competing Oct. 18-29 in the Paralympics, which also is in Sydney, Australia.

Asya Miller, a senior from Lapeer, Mich., majoring in criminal justice, and Joe Hamilton, a junior from Wayne, Mich., majoring in English, are in Australia waiting to compete in goalball, a game played by athletes who are visually impaired. Miller also will compete in track. In addition to Miller and Hamilton, WMU graduates Shawn Donaldson and Luke Patterson also are competing in goalball.

"I'm excited," Miller says. "It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences."

Like legally blind Olympic athlete Marla Runyan, Miller has Stargardt's Disease, a degenerative retina condition. Hamilton is totally blind.

Both will take their athletic talents to the goalball court, where they will compete against other visually impaired and blind athletes. Goalball is an action-packed sport similar to soccer or hockey that was invented by blind veterans in Eastern Europe after World War II and brought to the United States in the 1970s.

Goalball competitors play on a surface the size of a volleyball court using a 3.5-pound ball containing a bell. Using the senses of touch and hearing, they pass, block and attempt to score, with the ball exceeding speeds of 40 mph.

Miller was introduced to the sport by visually impaired friends about three years ago after beginning studies at WMU. Hamilton first stated playing the game 13 years ago after attending a sports camp--the first organized by Dr. Paul Ponchillia, WMU professor of blind rehabilitation.

"It's an addictive sport," he says. "And it's a really challenging sport. It takes a while to get used to. You have to learn to use all of your other senses, so it's kind of neat."

Being part of the Paralympics is a thrill in part because it is such a huge event, Miller notes.

The competition was the first international Olympic-style event for athletes with disabilities, debuting in 1960 and later coming to be known as the Paralympics. Today, the Paralympics is the world's largest sports event after the Olympics and shares the same venues as the Olympic Games.

More than 4,000 top athletes will compete in this year's event.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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