Seven-time Paralympian and four-time Paralympic medalist, Jen Armbruster announced her retirement from goalball last Thursday.
“It has been an honor and privilege to represent the United States of America at seven Paralympic Summer Games and a number of World Championships and Pan Am Games,” Armbruster said in an email announcing her retirement.
Initially introduced to the Paralympic sport of goalball in 1990, Armbruster has been a pillar of the U.S. Women’s Goalball program since she began training with the National team shortly after she was introduced to the sport. She competed in her first Paralympic Games in 1992. She was part of Team USA again at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games where the Women’s Team earned bronze on home soil. In 2004, Armbruster helped the team win silver and at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, after she was elected flag bearer by all of the U.S. Paralympic team, Armbruster and her team became Paralympic champions when they beat China in the gold medal game.
“The first and last Games are especially memorable but Beijing definitely stands out,” Armbruster told USABA, reflecting on most impactful moments in her athletic career. “It was so huge to walk into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony as flag bearer, with my dad. And then being part of the team of six ladies and three staff that were after the same goal.”
“Rio was highly emotional too,” said Armbruster. “I know that would probably be my last Games. And again, it was with my dad.”
Her father, Ken Armbruster, served as Head Coach for the U.S. Women’s Goalball Team from 1996 to 2016.
“Jen was a member of every team I coached,” said Ken Armbruster. “The success of both the USA National Team and the Colorado Bandits over the years are a credit to both her athletic talent and leadership. As parents, Linda and I could not be prouder of her many accomplishments both on and off the court.”
Assistant Head Coach, Jake Czechowski, shared similar sentiments. “Jen’s consistent pursuit of competitive greatness makes her the athlete she is,” said Czechowski. “That fire for success was contagious and has always been a huge key for Team USA. The sport of Goalball is where it is today because of athletes like Jen.”
Armbruster has been and will continue to be a driving force in the goalball community. Off the court, Armbruster has a dynamic, positive influence on the lives of many, especially fellow athletes. In addition to being named Team USA’s flag bearer at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, Armbruster was honored as Amateur Athlete of the Year in 2011 by Colorado Hall of Fame. As Inclusive Rec & Fitness Center Coordinator at Portland State University, she helped develop the school’s goalball program and hosts annual tournaments (Cascade Classic) for youth, adult and collegiate teams.
“Sports is important to the growth of every individual,” said Armbruster. “Goalball was an avenue to keep my life together so I have a passion for sharing the sport with others. The sport has given me so much so I want to give back. Even if it’s not goalball, getting kids involved in any team sport is important to me.”
Armbruster also spent time at Lakeshore Foundation in Alabama where she helped develop NightVision, a program for blinded Military Veterans.
“From kids to Military Veterans who thought they wouldn’t be able to be active after losing their sight, I want to help them find what I found in goalball,” said Armbruster. “I’m still in contact with a lot of the kids and adults I’ve worked with. Always asking them what they need – is it strength and conditioning, goalballs? Take it! I want to see them succeed.”
Most recently, as team captain, Armbruster helped her team earn a world title in 2014 which qualified the team for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. In Rio last September, Armbruster was on the court when the buzzer sounded and the U.S. Women had more goals on the scoreboard than their opponent, Brazil, in the bronze medal game. She also coached the U.S. Women’s Youth Goalball Team to silver at the 2015 IBSA World Goalball Championships.
Armbruster’s involvement in the sport won’t stop just because she’s stepping off the competitive court as an athlete though.
“We have a youth tournament coming up in a few weeks,” she said. “I plan to stay involved with the PSU collegiate team and offer opportunities for them to continue to develop. I’ll keep helping local teams too.”
She also looks forward to life outside of sport.
“Ryder (son), is six now. He’s playing t-ball and other activities. I want to refocus on balance. I was fortunate growing up in a military family that my parents were able to be there. I want to be there for Ryder.”
“I’ll always be involved in goalball though. It’s a big part of my life.”