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Sport Ambassador Program

A Year in Review…2023

Eliana Mason, holding a goalball, and Ricky Castaneda, holding a blind soccer ball, pose together for a photo.

The 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. 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.

The USABA Sport Ambassador Program focuses on three main objectives to grow adaptive sports throughout the blind and visually impaired community. These objectives include awareness & visibility, outreach & community engagement, and fundraising. Many of our elite athletes have shared that role models dramatically influenced their desire to pursue sports. Sport ambassadors partner with local community-based organizations serving the blind and visually impaired to share real-life stories, lessons and challenges surrounding perseverance, goal setting, leadership and more. This includes motivational speaking, sport demonstrations and one-on-one interactions. Sport ambassadors serve as powerful role models for young athletes and our community-based partners as they encourage our youth to believe they can achieve.

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)…were selected following an application process that took into account a variety of factors including experience with USABA’s programming and enthusiasm for the program’s objectives. The ambassadors chosen spanned the sports of goalball, blind soccer, track & field, swimming and triathlon, along with two sighted guides and one adaptive program facilitator. Goalball and blind soccer are the two Paralympic team sports for which USABA serves as the national governing body.

Through individually selected community outreach projects, these 16 ambassadors utilized their voices, stories, and experiences to foster partnership, raise funds to support future programming and widen the reach of adaptive sports both within the blind and visually impaired community and beyond.

Sport Ambassadors make appearances from coast to coast…

Throughout the year, ambassadors posted about their experiences on social media, shared content from USABA, and assisted in content creation across various platforms. Social media served a dual purpose, focusing on storytelling and awareness alongside fundraising. Athletes shared pieces of their journey through photos and stories and raised funds to support USABA programming and initiatives.

Eliana Mason speaks at a conference.

As ambassadors for USABA, athletes and coaches represented the organization at events across the country. USA Goalball Paralympian John Kusku attended a sports camp for visually impaired athletes hosted by the Michigan Blind Athletic Association (MBAA) at Western Michigan University where he spoke about his Paralympic experience to campers and their parents and helped lead some of the camp’s sports sessions. USA Goalball Women’s National Team member Eliana Mason represented USABA at the Angel City Games in Los Angeles, teaching a goalball clinic and participating in an athlete panel. Mason was also the keynote speaker at the Iowa Educational Services for the Blind Spring Family Conference.  

Sport ambassadors help to foster partnership and collaboration between USABA and other organizations serving the blind and visually impaired. Eliana Mason and USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team member Ricardo Castaneda taught their respective sports at the Northwest Association for Blind Athletes’ Camp Spark in Sandy, Ore. Castaneda also worked with the Lighthouse for the Blind St. Louis Sports Camp in partnership with Envision Blind Sports to teach soccer to 18 visually impaired participants. For the second straight year, USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team athlete and Paralympic medalist David Brown led an eight-week series of PlayLA blind soccer clinics hosted by Los Angeles Recreation and Parks.

John Kusku and Jasmine Murrell partnered with Rutgers University to host virtual and in-person programming including blind sports clinics and an athlete panel. Murrell also teamed with Bailey Ahrenholtz in presenting to blind and visually impaired youth from across the Midwest and East Coast as part of the LEAP (Learn, Earn and Prosper) virtual programming. In Chicago, Sheena Hager conducted a blind soccer clinic in partnership with the Chicago Parks District, an Innovate to Grow site made possible by a grant from US Soccer. Players and coaches from Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire FC were also on hand for the clinic. Hager also joined USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team coaches in teaching a blind soccer clinic at Move United Sport’s National Championships in Birmingham, Alabama.

Sighted guide Cheyenne Meyer hosted a “Learn to Guide” clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, where sighted individuals learned guiding techniques. Earlier in the year, Meyer also guided all three legs of the first all-blind female team to complete a 70.3 relay at the Texas Ironman Triathlon. In Virginia, USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team athlete Antoine Craig presented the sport of blind soccer at both the Sportable Adaptive Sports Festival Expo and at the Commonwealth Games at Liberty University.

USA Goalball Women’s National Team member Megan Jenson partnered with the University of Utah’s U-Fit program to teach goalball and blind soccer to more than 30 youth participants. Likewise, USA Goalball Men’s National Team member Calahan Young led a Paralympic skills clinic with Envision Blind Sports in Pittsburgh.

Sport Ambassador program media coverage

Hometown media outreach around the 2023 USABA Sport Ambassador announcement produced a 49% open rate and numerous articles.

USABA Blind Soccer Sport Ambassadors & Team announced by Press Release on March 8.

Participants in the Chicago Parks District blind soccer clinic pose with USABA Sport Ambassador Sheena Hager.

What drives our ambassadors…

Eliana Mason, PLY (two-time Paralympic medalist in Goalball): “Finding goalball was life-changing for me because it was the first time 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.”

Sighted guide Cheyenne Meyer (second from right) poses with her all-blind female triathlon team that completed the 70.3 Ironman in Texas.

Megan Jenson (USA Goalball Women’s National Team member): “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.”

Jasmine Murrell (Multi-sport athlete): “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. 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.”

Zach Buhler, PLY (Goalball): “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.”

David Brown, PLY (Blind Soccer & Track and Field): “Sports as a whole has saved my life. Being able to participate in sports helped pull me out of some low moments in my life. It allowed me to feel free and gave me a realm of escape plus purpose. Having adaptive sports opened my eyes to the possibilities that what I could become as an athlete. There are no limits to what you can accomplish.”

Cheyenne Meyer (Sighted Guide): “Being an ambassador reminded me of the importance of teamwork, especially for an amazing organization. It also taught me many things about USABA and myself. It allowed me to go out of my comfort zone in a safe environment. I was fortunate enough to meet some amazing people.”

Bailey Ahrenholtz (Blind Soccer): “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.”

Calahan Young, PLY (Goalball): “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. 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.”

Sheena Hager (Blind Sport Administrator): “Coaching blind sports gives me a sense of pride in 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.”

2024 USABA Sport Ambassadors

2023 USABA Sport Ambassadors

2022 USABA Blind Soccer Sport Ambassadors

2022 USABA Endurance Sport Ambassadors

2022 USABA Goalball Sport Ambassadors