by Bill Kellick
The three big summer holidays of 2019 appear like mile markers on Josh Welborn’s goalball roadmap. Memorial Day weekend saw Welborn’s team take gold at the United States Association of Blind Athletes’ National Championships. Over the Fourth of July week, he led Team USA as the top goal scorer during the International Blind Sports Federation’s Goalball Qualifier. Soon, the summer will come to a close just before Labor Day with the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, where the U.S. men’s team is looking to secure its quota spot for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Flashback to the national championships in Smyrna, Ga., Welborn teamed with Jordan Main and Zach Buhler to form the Manticores squad. The three-man team left no doubt who was the best team in the competition, routing the Columbus Chill 13-3 in the final as Welborn was named the tournament MVP.
“The win at nationals was definitely a special one for me,” Welborn said. “To be able to win it with a group of guys that I see as my brothers in this was really an amazing feeling.”
At the IBSA Qualifier in Fort Wayne, Ind., in July, Welborn, along with teammate Calahan Young, were the only Team USA members who were not on the silver-medal winning U.S. team at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. Nevertheless, Welborn led the team with 21 goals in the nine tournament games, including the overtime game-winner against Ukraine to secure a fifth-place finish.
In a 6-5 quarterfinal loss to eventual gold medalist Lithuania, Welborn scored all five goals for the American squad. He also had a potential game-tying goal in the final seconds of that contest nullified by a long ball call. In the end, the men’s team fell short of securing a quota spot for Tokyo next year and will now attempt to qualify at the Parapan Am Games in Lima, Peru, Aug. 26-Sept. 1.
“The performance at the IBSA qualifier was bittersweet,” he said. “It was great to be able to provide for Team USA, however it was quite a blow that it wasn’t enough to get us where we needed to be.”
Welborn grew up playing a multitude of sports as a young kid, including soccer, swimming and baseball.
“That one didn’t go so well for a blind kid,” says Welborn.
He eventually found the perfect fit with goalball when he was introduced to the Paralympic sport by the Lakeshore Foundation and its Sports Education Camp. Years later, Welborn is nearing the pinnacle of the sport…the Paralympic Games.
At next week’s Parapan Am Games, the U.S. men’s team will need to either win gold, or take silver behind Brazil, as that country has already qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
“Heading into Lima I feel good,” Welborn said. “I have been working hard and trying to improve the set of skills I have to hopefully provide another performance similar to the one at the IBSA Qualifier. This is my first major IPC (International Paralympic Committee) event so I am also excited to see what they have prepared for us down in Lima. I’m sure it will be outstanding.”
Following the Parapan American Games, Welborn plans to return to his base in Salt Lake City to catch up on the first two weeks of missed classes at the George Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah where he is studying finance with and emphasis in advanced financial analysis.
And, if all goes as planned in Lima, Welborn will move out to Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2020 to prepare for the Tokyo Paralympic Games at the Goalball Center of Excellence at Turnstone Center.
Josh Welborn (r) celebrates with teammates Tyler Merren, John Kusku and Calahan Young after a match at the 2019 IBSA Qualifier.