Editor’s Note: Before the Paralympic Games open on September 7, we’ll be introducing you to the U.S. Paralympic athletes who will be competing in visual impairment categories in Rio de Janeiro through a series entitled “Rio-Bound”. Follow along on our website and social media with #riobound. Though the torch was extinguished at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony on Sunday, August 21, we’re counting down the days until it is re-lit for the Paralympic Games! A full schedule of events can be found at www.rio2016.com. You can tune into NBC and NBCSN (broadcast schedule here) or stream Games coverage live online at www.paralympic.org or https://www.dailymotion.com/Paralympics.
Birthdate: August 6, 1984
Hometown: Commerce Township, Mich.
High School: Warren Mott High School
College: Western Michigan University ’07, Math & Physics Education
Motto: “Do more.”
2015 ParaPan American Games – silver
2014 World Goalball Championships – bronze
2011 ParaPan American Games – silver
Born with a hereditary degenerative retinal disease, John is legally blind with less than 1 degree of vision left in each eye. John was introduced to goalball at a Sports Education Camp hosted by the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes at Western Michigan University at a young age. Having a passion for sports as a child, he was excited to learn about a team sport in which he could compete without special accommodations. John continued to develop his skill in the sport throughout high school and college. He is now a husband and father and teaches high school math and physics.
John thanks his wife Jessica for her support and encouragement on and off the goalball court. In addition to driving John to practice and competitions, Jessica coaches his team, Michigan Omega, and helps build workouts and tournaments into their busy schedule. It brings a smile to John’s face when his son George imitates his strength workouts with 1 lb. dumbbells.
When John isn’t thinking about goalball, which isn’t often, he enjoys listening to audiobooks, especially of the science and science fiction genre. We caught up with John to find out what he’s most looking forward to in Rio and how he’s preparing for his first Paralympic Games.
USABA: What are you most looking forward to about the Brazilian culture?
JK: Brazilians seem to be more friendly and tolerant than the norm. For example, when we were at the world championships in Finland in 2014 we (the USA Men’s Goalball Team) were being our typical loud, boisterous selves on a city bus while everyone else on the bus was very quiet. Coach Boyle was reading from a travel brochure a few minutes later and read the line “Finnish people appreciate silence.” I do not think that Brazilians feel the same. Acting flamboyantly in public seems to be more normal and I appreciate that.
USABA: This will be your first Paralympic Games experience. What are you most looking forward to in Rio?
JK: Yes. I think my experiences at the 2011 ParaPan American Games in Mexico and 2015 in Canada will be similar to our experience in Rio. The ParaPan Am Games are run just like the Paralympics, just on a smaller scale.
I am excited about the large number of athletes from all over the world living and eating together in the Athlete Village together, hanging out with my teammates for three weeks, and watching Paralympic competition in person. I’m also excited to play goalball against the top teams in the world in front of large crowds for a Paralympic medal. Oh! And of course, the 24-hour dining.
USABA: How are you preparing for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games?
JK: The thing I do most to prepare for goalball competitions is mentally rehearsing. At least twice each day I play goalball in my head. I practice positioning and mentally focus on my form. I also do some sort of physical training almost every day. Generally, I’m working on strength training and plyometrics on alternating days. On average, I attend one weekend tournament each month and find myself training with the U.S. Men’s Goalball Resident Team in Fort Wayne, Indiana, about once a month. My diet is really focused on good ratios of fruits and vegetables to carbohydrates to proteins. I am also very focused on my iron intake.
USABA: What is a typical day of training like for you?
JK: I start every workout with a set of dynamic moves developed by Coach E. J. Whitney for the U.S. Men’s National Goalball Team. It is a sequence of ten repeated moves with a lot of extending and flexing. The warm-up does a really nice job of getting my body ready to move and works on flexibility. Then I delve into either strength training or plyometrics. The strength training is really focused on power in the core, so we do things like Romanian dead lifts, front squats, pullups, bench press, shoulder press, box steps, back bridges or lunges. Our plyometric exercises focus on being quick and explosive. [Check out John’s plyometric #WorkoutWednesday here.] I also throw a fifteen-pound medicine ball in four different ways to work on explosiveness. I add in some interval training where I do a cardio exercise at maximum effort for fifteen seconds then take thirty seconds to recover, for about sixteen sets. I squeeze in cardio wherever possible, usually on the stationary bike or treadmill. Finally, I throw the goalball in my basement twice a week to work on power and form.
USABA: Who do you thank for helping you get to this point in your athletic career?
JK: My wife, Jessica – She drives me all over the country to train, practice, and play. She decided to get involved with goalball years ago and became an official. She’s now the coach of the Michigan Omega goalball team and director of the Michigan Blind Athletics Association. She coaches me regularly, giving me things to work on and great ideas. She has also helped me build my workout and tournament schedules into our busy lives. She has put a lot of time and effort into making sure that I have the resources to make this happen.
My extended family – Rebecca, Alan, Julianne, Amanda, Joey, Andrew, Sarah, and Andrew. They drive me around, help out with the Midwest regional goalball tournament that Jessica and I run each year, help me find training facilities, and support me and my family, especially my toddler, George. Without their help, I am sure that my wife would have lost it by now.
Tyler Merren – I played with Tyler on the Michigan Wrecking Crew from 2001 to 2012 and we both attended Western Michigan University from 2003 to 2009. He is my workout buddy, teammate and friend. I provided him with a goalball punching bag, and he provided me with the motivation to keep playing even when my focus in life was on other things.
Joe Hamilton – Joe provided me with almost every opportunity to play goalball that I had from 1998 to 2002 when I was first learning the sport. Without him pushing so hard to find a place for me with teammates my own age, I would not have fallen in love with goalball.
Paul and Sue Ponchillia – Thirty-five years ago they started a sports education camp to help children who are blind and visually impaired get involved in sports. I attended the camp for several years, first as a participant and then as a volunteer and goalball expert. Without this camp, goalball would not be a thing in Michigan nor an outlet for me.
My Mother, Julianne – She supported me in every way and always said that she would help me do whatever I decided to do. She would drive me to anything and buy me whatever gear was necessary.
John takes the court with the U.S. Men’s National Goalball Team on September 9 against China. Find the full schedule here and follow Team USA’s success on social media and on http://www.usaba.org.