The 2023 USABA Sport Ambassador Program highlights key individuals within the blind and visually impaired community from across the country, enabling them to further the impact of their personal stories and experiences through outreach and advocacy. In the program’s second year, 16 ambassadors…including seven Paralympians with a combined 15 Paralympic Games appearances and six medals (one gold, three silver and two bronze)… span the sports of goalball, blind soccer, track & field, swimming and triathlon, along with two sighted guides and one adaptive program facilitator. From Paralympic medalists to guide runners, these athletes play a key role in supporting USABA’s mission, magnifying the impact of programming through community collaboration, and serving as strong role models for aspiring athletes nationwide.
HAVE AN AMBASSADOR AT YOUR EVENT
USABA Sport Ambassadors represent a wide array of sports, experiences and accolades. If you or your organization is interested in hosting an ambassador to teach, coach, speak or participate at your event, please contact Bill Kellick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet the 2023 USABA Sport Ambassadors…
HOMETOWN: Hubbard, Iowa
A junior at the University of Northern Iowa majoring in sports public relations, Bailey has been part of the athletic community since elementary school. Her love for sports grew when she became visually impaired as a teenager. Throughout the years, Ahrenholtz has been involved in beep baseball, track, swimming, goalball and now blind soccer. She also participated in the inaugural USABA Emerging Stars Camp in 2019 at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “Since losing my vision at the age of 12, sports for the blind has helped me to grow into the person I am today. Through this opportunity as an ambassador, I hope to extend my knowledge and love for sports.”
HOMETOWN: Chula Vista, California
David Brown was born into an athletic family. He grew up playing basketball before his sight loss and could be found sprinting around the playground as his vision decreased. At age 11, David attended the Missouri School for the Blind where he became involved in track, wrestling, goalball and forensics. He graduated from both Hazelwood West High School and the Missouri School for the Blind. David went on to become a three-time Paralympian in track and field, winning a gold medal in the 100 meters at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. His hobbies include jump roping, beyblading, drumming, eating and hanging out with his wife. He launched a business alongside his wife called Team DR Brown LLC, where the focus is faith, fun, fitness, and food!
IN HIS OWN WORDS:
“Sports as a whole has literally saved my life. Being able to participate in sports helped pulled me out of some low moments in my life. It allowed me to feel free and gave me a realm of escape plus purpose. Sports has always been a huge part of my life. From a child, I grew up playing multiple sports. When I was no longer able to play sighted sports, having adaptive sports opened my eyes to the possibilities that could become as an athlete. It was a goalball athlete that said, “It doesn’t matter if we are blind or not. We are athletes first and we are going to do something in sport regardless of our sight.” Question just became which one would we find ourselves in. That’s the same impact I want to make as a sport ambassador. I want to give up and coming athletes that hope of what can become. I want to show other blind and visually impaired individuals that there are still ways to be active. That there are opportunities to become a high level athlete and compete on the biggest stage there is. That there are no limits to what you can accomplish.”
HOMETOWN: Huntington, Indiana
Zach competed in his first Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2021 as part of the USA Men’s Paralympic Goalball Team that finished fourth. He was one of two Paralympic rookies on the six-man team in Tokyo. Zach first started playing goalball in 2016 and the Tokyo Paralympics was his first major tournament. Since he was young, Zach always wanted to be a top-level athlete and when he lost his sight at the age of 12 he felt that was taken from him. When he found goalball he fell in love and started training to be the best he could be and hasn’t looked back.
IN HIS OWN WORDS: “Advocating for participation in adaptive sports is something that I am very passionate about. I did not find out about adaptive sports until I was out of high school. My goal as a sports ambassador is to educate those who are blind or visually impaired and to help guide them to a sport they can fully participate in and compete on an equal playing field. Being a sports ambassador is a huge honor and I will do everything in my power to help grow the sport and awareness for the abilities of blind athletes.”
HOMETOWN: Fort Worth, Texas
Ricardo’s sports adventure started at the age of 7, playing little league American football with his cousin as his partner in crime. Soon after running the ball up and down the field a few times, they began to kick a soccer ball just for fun. Ricardo began to find that he could not play soccer due to the ball’s speed making it look as if it was a fly or blur in the air, so he began to compromise by just running the ball, blocking a player, or even just playing before the game with teammates. He was soon pulled from all sports due to an accident in an indoor soccer field before the game. As his vision deteriorated Ricardo began to find help with the Texas School For The Blind which not only gave him the knowledge to navigate the world but showed him sports and physical fitness in a whole new light, from starting with goalball courts to the sparring mats of wrestling and judo, and now to blind soccer.
IN HIS OWN WORDS: “As a USABA Sport Ambassador I hope to widen this road of physical fitness and give family members with disabilities an experience to bring back to their family and friends, giving a small piece back to my community. Being a young adult, I now understand that these sports are not for myself, but to show others with similar situations that physical fitness and sport is achievable with hard work and persistence.”
HOMETOWN: Richmond, Virginia
Antoine is a member of the USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team. He is a 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Trials silver medalist in the 100 meters, as well as a 4-time gold medalist at the Arizona Grand Prix in the 400-meter and 200-meter sprints and a 3-time Paralympic Track & Field Nationals silver medalist. He was nominated to his first Paralympic team for the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru. During his first year of undergrad, Antoine had a 1.7 GPA. He felt like he was losing more and more vision every day, and was having an extremely difficult time adjusting. It felt like no one understood what he was going through, and he felt so alone. Unfortunately, his family was not very supportive, but this forced Antoine to turn to his community to find support. One day a friend told him about how she has seen blind people run with their hands tied together with another person. At first, Antoine was a little skeptical of what she was talking about but she was persistent in them trying. From that moment, he was absolutely in love with running, because as a cane user, he never really got to run or move that fast. Running tethered to his friend was the first time that Antoine ever experienced that level of freedom, and he did not want to stop running. They were able to reach out to a local organization that was able to come out and find someone to help him run a race that was located in Virginia. One thing that Antoine did not know is that this one race would be the beginning of an amazing running career. This eventually led him to become nominated to the first-ever USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team, and it all started with a friend and a shoestring. Antoine was able to graduate from VCU with a 3.0 GPA and he also graduated with his master’s in clinical mental health counseling. Antoine believes none of this would be possible without discovering running. Running has allowed him to discover self-confidence, and also give new meaning to his life. He no longer thinks about the vision that he lost. He now smiles and basks in the magnitude of what he has accomplished. This gift is something that Antoine is very passionate about sharing with others because he knows how much it has impacted his life. Running has afforded him so many opportunities like traveling to Germany, Spain, Amsterdam and Peru. Running has expanded his worldview and allowed Antoine to understand the importance of his experience and the impact it could have on others.
IN HIS OWN WORDS: “Ever since I lost my vision, I have tried to make sure that no one has to go through many of the challenges that I have encountered. I try to use my accomplishments to show others that we can be more than a diagnosis. This is what motivated me to become a mental health counselor. I know that in this space I will be able to directly impact many people. With the help of USABA I will be able to reach so many others that may need our help.”
HOMETOWN: Chicago, Illinois
Ashley is a Chicago-based paratriathlete and runner. As a result of premature birth, Ashley was left with significant vision loss and has been legally blind all of her life. Ashley has run multiple 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons. In 2016, she ran a marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon. In addition to her marathon debut in 2016, Ashley was named the Paratriathlon National Champion. She also holds two second place finishes and two third place finishes at Nationals, an individual collegiate national title, and two team collegiate national titles. Ashley coaches both para and nondisabled athletes at a variety of skill levels and works to create and foster opportunity for athletes with disabilities within sport – attempting to break down barriers to entry and access within the sport so that all who wish to are able to enjoy movement on their own terms.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “Sports for the blind have helped me find connection and community. Some of my best friends became my friends through competition and/or guiding. I attribute a lot of who I am to the things I’ve learned and the people I’ve met from sports for the blind. I hope that through my time as a USABA Sport Ambassador I’m able to help bring more people into the blind sports community so that they can meet people and find connection in similar ways that I have.”
HOMETOWN: Chicago, Illinois
Sheena has been with the Chicago Park District – Adaptive Sports program for 8 years. During her time there, she has grown programs for people who are blind or visually impaired by 75 percent. Some of the sports Sheena has developed in Chicago for this population are the Chicago Fury goalball team, blind soccer within the Chicago Public Schools, blind archery, guide running, and fitness programs, along with a variety of other recreational options including boxing for fitness and dance clinics.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “Coaching blind sports gives me a sense of pride helping the athletes become the best that they can be by uncovering their true abilities in sport. I have seen students in the school system go from reserved to confident not only on the field but in general. Seeing athletes grasp concepts and grow in their sport of choice gives me hope that our world is becoming more and more accessible as I was fortunate to play sports myself growing up. It is important to me to provide these opportunities in order to do my part in creating accessibility for all. As a sport ambassador for USABA, I hope to continue growing not only sports in Chicago for people who are blind or visually impaired but also develop a system for other local agencies within largescale inner cities to develop programs for the youth in their city. It is important to capture the students at a young age in order to continue to grow the adult game across the country. If we can develop a way to reach these youth, then I strongly believe accessibility in a number of ways will continue to grow.”
HOMETOWN: Dacula, Georgia
At the age of 4, McClain dove into the pool and instantly felt at home. After she completed her first season of competitive swimming she told her parents that she would go to the Olympics. Not only did she say that she was going to go to the Olympics, but she wanted to win a gold medal. One day, with no warnings, McClain went blind. The first question she asked her mom when she went blind was if she would still be able to swim, and that was when they learned about the Paralympics. After healing from her eye surgeries, McClain was able to get back in the pool and quickly switched her sights from competing in the Olympics to becoming a Paralympic champion. At the age of 15, McClain made one dream come true. She competed in the 2016 Paralympic Games. She was the youngest athlete on all of Team USA and shocked everyone when she made the finals for the 100 backstroke and finished 8th in the world. In 2017, McClain became the world champion in the 400 freestyle as well as winning two silver medals and two bronze medals. She represented Team USA at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, competing in four events: the 100 backstroke, 100 breaststroke, 200 IM, and 400 freestyle. She finished 6th in the world in the 400 freestyle. After her success in Tokyo at the Paralympic Games, McClain decided to try her hand at a new sport and transitioned from Para swimming to Paratriathlon. Her goal is to compete in the 2024 and 2028 Paralympic Games as a triathlete.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “Swimming is my love and my passion but I also have a deep passion for public speaking. I enjoy speaking about my story and my journey. My journey of going blind and then becoming a Paralympic swimmer. I want to educate people about the Paralympics and what I can do even if I am perceived as ‘disabled’ I believe that I am ‘enabled’. I want to show other kids that even if I am different and have to do things a little differently, that I can still accomplish and do everything that they do. I want to show other blind kids and adults that we can do whatever we want even if people tell us we cannot do something because we are blind. To me the Paralympic movement means sharing how truly strong we all are in our own ways and the ways that we can overcome obstacles in the face of adversity. Through my public speaking I will be able to share what the Paralympics mean and spread the message that we can all say ‘I’m possible’. Through the USABA Ambassador Program I hope to show those around me that you can always Just Keep Swimming.”
HOMETOWN: Boynton Beach, Florida
Je’Von competes in track & field, specializing in the 400 & 800 meters. He won a bronze medal in the 600 meters at the 2015 USA Track & Field Indoor Championships. While attending Hampton University, Je’Von won the 400 meter indoor title at the MEAC Conference Championship. He lowered his indoor school record 400 meter time his senior year and qualified for the NCAA Championship in the 400 and 4×400 meter relay. He would go on to reach the semifinal round of the USA Outdoor Championship in 2014.
IN HIS OWN WORDS: “Having always been passionate about sports and fitness, I have dedicated myself to achieving my goals in the world of track and field. As a proud alumna of Hampton University, I hold undergraduate and graduate degrees in Business Administration. As a pro track athlete and US Paralympic guide, I have witnessed the tremendous impact that sports for the blind can have on people’s lives. Being a USABA Sport Ambassador, my goal is to raise awareness about the significance of sports for people with visual impairments and encourage more people to take part in these activities. I want to inspire others with visual impairments to pursue their goals and dreams, while also working to break down barriers and stereotypes surrounding people with disabilities. Through my experience in sports, I have learned the importance of determination, hard work, and perseverance, and I am excited to use my platform to make a positive impact in the lives of others.”
HOMETOWN: Tremonton, Utah
Megan grew up in a small town in northern Utah and recently graduated from Utah State University with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She has been playing Goalball since the age of 11 and has been involved with USABA since she was 15. Megan began training with the USA Women’s Goalball National Team last September.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “Blind sports have made an incredible impact in my life. They have taught me teamwork, self-reliance, discipline, and confidence. As a sport ambassador I hope to help other people see these qualities within themselves and find a love for blind sports like I have.”
HOMETOWN: Commerce Township, Michigan
John is a math and physics teacher at the Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southwest in Wixom, Michigan. He teaches high school juniors and seniors from several different school districts in Southwest Oakland County. He is legally blind due to a degenerative hereditary eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. He earned his master’s degree in mathematics in 2009 from Western Michigan University. John’s nine-year-old son, George, is in fourth grade and John’s wife, Jessica, is a teacher of children who are blind or visually impaired. John is a Paralympic silver medalist in the sport of goalball. He has worked in many mentoring roles for young people who are blind or visually impaired as well as their parents and teachers.
IN HIS OWN WORDS: “As a youngster, I loved playing sports, but as I got older and lost more vision I could not play as hard as I wanted to play. When I attended the Sports Education Camp for blind and visually impaired kids at Western Michigan University I fell in love with goalball. I found a sport I could really compete in and a group of blind and visually impaired people to learn and grow with. I would love for every blind or visually impaired person to find a way to be competitive and find other blind and visually impaired people to bond with.”
HOMETOWN: Beaverton, Oregon
Eliana is a two-time Paralympian and two-time Paralympic medalist, winning a bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and a silver medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics where she was the second-highest goal scorer on the U.S. team with 10 goals in seven games, good for eighth-best in the entire tournament. She has also participated in two Goalball World Championships (2014, 2018) winning gold in 2014. Eliana serves as the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee Athletes’ Advisory Council representative and to the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes’ board of directors.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “Growing up I always loved competing and partaking in competitive sports. My vision loss made it difficult to keep up with my sighted peers and compete at a level I wanted. I always found myself having to work through visual barriers, which took away from my experience of the sport, along with my ability to partake in it. Finding goalball was life-changing for me, because it was the first time ever I was on an equal playing field with my peers, and could simply be an athlete first. My vision was no longer part of the equation, and this was a very freeing and empowering feeling for me. I was able to focus on the sport, play at a high level and not have to compensate for vision loss. Having an equal playing field is incredibly important and made me fall in love with the game. Additionally, through goalball, I met other incredible athletes who were role models and mentors to me. I had a positive representation of vision loss for the first time in my life, and I learned to find confidence as a blind person. Goalball is one of the only blind sports played on a team, and it allowed me to be a part of a team. A lot of blind-friendly sports like swimming, running, rowing and biking are often solo sports. To find a team sport where my vision wasn’t a barrier motivated and empowered me to follow my athletic dreams.”
HOMETOWN: Greenville, Michigan
Tyler Merren is a 4-time Paralympic athlete with the USA Men’s Goalball Team, motivational speaker, personal trainer, and owner of ReVision Training LLC. Born in Michigan with an eye condition known as retinitis pigmentosa, Tyler grew up with a love for sports and activities which transferred into his baccalaureate in exercise science and career as a personal trainer and elite athlete. He and sis wife, Leanne, who is also blind, have four children and currently live in Greenville, Michigan where Tyler is working for Camp Tuhsmeheta, running his business, developing the ReVision Fitness audio fitness program, homeschooling his children, training for the USA Team and being the best husband and father he can be.
IN HIS OWN WORDS: “Sport taught me the power of discipline, teamwork, and perseverance and through the Sport Ambassador Program, I am looking to support all blind athletes who are seeking to better their lives through sport and fitness.”
HOMETOWN: McKinney, Texas
Cheyenne is an endurance athlete and signing guide for athletes who are blind, low vision or DeafBlind. After a traumatic bike accident in 2016, Cheyenne came back to sport with a passion for helping others reach their own finish lines. Since 2016, she has had the privilege of guiding athletes in races from 5k runs to Ironman triathlons. Cheyenne began learning American Sign Language in 2017 to become a better guide for athletes who are DeafBlind. She has hosted and attended community clinics and camps to help new guides improve their skills. She has also had the honor of guiding at multiple USABA tandem cycling and triathlon camps, as well as national championship races for triathlon and paracycling.
IN HER OWN WORDS: “Getting involved with the blind community has been one of the greatest blessings of my life and has become one of the most important. Serving as a guide has helped me make so many lifelong friends, see incredible places, create unforgettable memories and learn the importance of accessibility and inclusion. As a USABA Sport Ambassador, I hope to continue promoting the great things USABA is doing for the blind community. I want to help athletes who are blind find happiness and discover their potential through sports, as well as encourage new guides and volunteers to get involved. I’d also like to promote accessibility and inclusion in sports and social media.”
HOMETOWN: Plainfield, New Jersey
Jasmine was born with congenital glaucoma. For the better part of her life, as a result of her visual difficulties, she poured everything she had into her education. Jasmine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. It wasn’t until 2014 that she was introduced to adaptive sports and it forever changed her life. Jasmine was presented with an opportunity to challenge herself, test her abilities, and explore facets of herself that she didn’t get to pursue while in high school or college. She became a multi-sport athlete, competing in beep baseball, goalball and running (track & endurance events). In 2019, Jasmine represented the United States at the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, an amazing experience that elevated her sports aspirations and left her wanting more. Following the return to activities after the COVID-19 pandemic, blind soccer and rowing have been added to her list. Currently, Jasmine’s main sports are running (track & endurance events) and rowing. She hopes to be able to compete on the world’s largest stage, the Paralympics, in the near future. In addition to being an athlete, Jasmine is a model and soon-to-be student (going back to college to get her doctorate degree).
IN HER OWN WORDS: “Sports play a critical role in our society and it’s only natural to want to be able to have the same experiences as our counterparts. Because of my disability, I felt like I was at a disadvantage to my peers growing up; opportunities to engage in sports and/or physical activities were limited for safety purposes. It was not until I was an adult that I learned about adaptive sports and had the chance to get involved. Blind sports have had a positive impact on my life ever since! These sports promote inclusion, whether a recreational athlete or an elite athlete, it brings together people with similar backgrounds. For me, outside of my family, I did not know many individuals who had the same interests as me, therefore, my involvement allowed me to interact with like-minded individuals. Along with movement and being active, socialization is another area of importance. These components all contribute to an individual’s quality of life and people with disabilities are more likely to fall short in these areas. One reason for this is a lack of knowledge. As a sport ambassador, I will work to spread awareness. Not everyone has the same upbringing or resources; I will use outreach to teach communities about blindness and adaptive sports.”
HOMETOWN: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Calahan hails from Pittsburgh, Pa., and has been playing goalball for over 16 years. He has been a member of the USA Men’s National Goalball Team since 2017 and graduated from George Mason University with a master’s in healthcare administration. In addition, Calahan joined the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes’ board of directors in late 2020 as an athlete representative, also serving on the audit and finance committee.
IN HIS OWN WORDS: “My favorite thing about goalball is that it allows me to use my elite athletic abilities to compete on an equal playing field and face off against my peers and other top international athletes. The sport has driven me to be the hard-working and dedicated professional that I am today. Without goalball, I would have never found such a tight-knit community of people that are all going through life as individuals with a visual impairment, demonstrating to me just how successful and independent in life we can be.”