As a kid, Daryl Walker dreamed about playing basketball and teaming up with Kobe Bryant. Since discovering goalball and making his first national team in 2003 when he was 21, Daryl has competed in 12 countries, won five national championships, and competed in two Paralympic Games, winning a silver medal in 2016. In the past year alone, he got married and became a certified yoga instructor. Find out more about Daryl in this Q&A:
Q: How did you get started in goalball, and what sports did you play before? How did they help you prepare for goalball?
A: I first got into goalball in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1996 when I attended the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. When I first tried goalball, I thought it was the weirdest sport I had ever seen and I didn’t really enjoy playing it at first. In fact, it took a few years for me to enjoy it. Until then, I did what any other student did in school…I went out for other sports….cross-country, basketball, and track and field. I still played goalball on the side during those years but still didn’t enjoy it all the time when I played. But then, when I graduated high school in 2001, I was asked by a friend and graduate of FSDB, Eddie Munro, to join him and others in forming a Florida men’s goalball team. So, like any athlete in my position, I said yes.
Growing up as the only kid in my neighborhood with a visual disability was a very difficult task for me. But, in order to fit in and play the games I enjoyed watching on television, I had to adapt to my surrounding any way that I could. I enjoyed playing anything…soccer, basketball, football, kickball, baseball, dodgeball, etc.
Q: The past year has been memorable for you as you got engaged and married to your wife Melissa. How did you meet and what was more nerve-racking, the proposal or the wedding day?
A: Melissa and I met on a dating app for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints called Mutual. We were connected officially on July 30, 2019. It was more nerve-racking on the wedding day than the actual proposal. There was so much fear, doubt, anxiety and panic flowing through my body and mind. Did not foresee this happening.
Q: You also became a yoga instructor. How did that come about?
A: I first got into yoga in the summer of 2016. It was right before I went to my second Paralympic Games as a goalball athlete. Growing up, I had always heard people say that yoga was for girls. I started to believe it until I tried it out for myself. Some of my teammates at the time were using it as a form of recovery after training, so, I decided to give it a try. At first, it was super awkward. But as time went on, it helped me release the tension that was built up in my lower back that had been part of my life for well over a decade.
After we got back from the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil with a silver medal, I started to get on a more consistent routine with yoga. I still had doubts about it but I made it work. As years passed, I discovered that yoga helped me overcome lower back pain/tension, muscle soreness from goalball practice and strength training, and decrease stress, anxiety, snd other emotional burdens. It was safe to say that I was becoming more than just a person who practiced yoga. Yoga was becoming a lifestyle.
It was May of 2019 when I officially decided to get my certification to become a yoga guide. But where would I go to make this happen? I did some research of schools in and out of the country, but came to the decision of just getting certified in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was at Studio Seva where I met my yoga teacher and owner of the studio, Joni McCarran. We started our sessions together in November of 2019 and I completed my 200-hour certification hours by mid July of 2020. I’ve worked at that same studio for over six months now. I work twice a week and whenever someone needs a substitute. It is by far the most life-changing job I’ve ever had. I can wake up each morning knowing that I finally made the decision to study something I love and that I finally have a career.
Q: You are the longest-standing goalball resident athlete at the U.S. Paralympic Training Site at the Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities in Fort Wayne. How have you seen the program progress over the years you’ve been involved?
A: The residency program has come a long way. It has gone from six male athletes living in a college dormitory near Turnstone to over 10 athletes of both genders living in two separate resident housing directly across from Turnstone. We also now have sports psychology for both teams, a strength and conditioning room that has a ton of equipment to support the needs and goals of each athlete, athletic trainers, ice room, muscle and food recovery station, and of course the huge support of Turnstone fitness staff and the community of Fort Wayne. It is safe to say that without the residency program before Rio in 2016, we wouldn’t have taken the silver medal for men and bronze for women. Now, we’re in a great position to take home double gold in Tokyo which hasn’t been done by team USA since 1984.
I’ve always had a hard time finding my place within the world. Fort Wayne, Indiana, has become a safe haven for me. It has become my home. The residency program is such an amazing thing. Between the fitness staff of turnstone led by our head strength and conditioning coach Edward Whitney, to our head women’s and men’s residency coach Jake Czechowski. Before, it was all about playing goalball. Now, every athlete either is working or attending undergraduate or graduate school. Then you add our team dietitian Kate Davis and team sports psychologist for both men and women. I could say so much more about this program. It is safe to say that I’ve grown attached to it.
Q: Do you have a favorite goalball memory (both on and off the court)?
A: My favorite goalball memory was when I and my five teammates were standing on the podium at the 2016 Paralympic Games with our silver medals around our necks. I remember watching the Olympics before going to the Paralympics thinking, “what if?” And, then it happened.
My favorite memory off the court was going to the White House in October of 2016 after the Paralympic Games. I got to meet and shake hands with the first African-American President of the United States, President Barack Obama. As an African-American male, it was quite an occasion that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Q: Anything you can tell us that we may not know? Hobbies, favorite dishes, etc.?
A: My favorite dinner dish is meatloaf with mashed potatoes and asparagus. I also enjoy Blaze Pizza, Chipotle, Jimmy John’s, and red velvet cake.
Hobbies would include yoga, studying Sanskrit, watching WWE, reading ancient and modern scripture, studying church history, and watching a good television series based upon comic books, fantasy novels, or vampirism and witchcraft.
Q: What has the sport of goalball meant in your life?
A: Growing up as a kid, I was in denial about my visual disability, so much so that I made the decision at an early age that I was going to make it to the NBA. As a kid, I loved playing sports. Anything from football, kickball, taekwondo, and skateboarding. Then, I added cross-country and track once I entered high school. But still, basketball was my love. Everything from shooting, dribbling, passing, defense, dunking, layups, etc. I loved it all. I would play for hours outside and inside. I would watch my favorite basketball player Kobe Bryant on TV. I would play every video game of basketball. I said to myself, “What if Kobe was my teammate someday?” But then, reality finally sank in. My vision was too bad to play at a higher level. It was my senior year in high school where I hung it up.
Two years later, I got asked to tryout for the USA Men’s Goalball Team…the one sport I didn’t want anything to do with in middle school and high school. Yet, I must have been doing something good to have the assistant coach of the national team reach out to me. I tried out in January of 2003 and made the team that May. I’ve been off and on the team for almost 18 years now. I’ve been to 12 countries, two Paralympic Games, won five national championships and been a part of the Fort Wayne goalball residency program from October 2015 to now.
It’s really kind of funny how goalball has become such a huge thing for me. From the beginning, there were two benefits of me playing the game: One, it’s a indoor sport, so having to wear sunscreen doesn’t matter. I have albinism so I can’t tan; and two, my eyes are really sensitive to overhead lighting and glare off the ground. In goalball, we wear eyeshades that prevent sight or light from coming in to even the playing field in the game. So, my light sensitivity no longer exists. And some of the dynamics of stretching, strength training, team strategy, and so on exist in goalball too. It is safe to say that basketball and all the other sports were meant to serve the purpose of preparing me to be a goalball player/athlete/Paralympian.