At the tender age of 22, Josh Welborn has seen his fair share of success on the goalball court.
Having been part of the silver medal-winning team at last year’s Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, where he led the U.S. team with 19 goals, Welborn is now one of the team’s hopefuls heading to next year’s Paralympic Games.
As a finance student at the University of Utah, Welborn’s love and passion for the sport bodes well for the coming months.
“It’s unfortunate about [the postponement of] Tokyo 2020 but I see it as an opportunity for myself and the team to get better than we would have been if they were happening as planned,” Welborn said. “Our training was going well and we were making great progress, not that we aren’t now because this train never stops. We stay in touch and are always trying to hatch new and better ways to attack the game and our approach to the Paralympic tournament ahead of us.”
The USA men have gone through a recent resurgence after a difficult period following their bronze medal at Rio 2016. A fifth-place finish at the 2018 World Championships – the first time they finished out of the medals since 2002 – and the same place at the 2019 IBSA International Qualifier tournament for Tokyo 2020 in Fort Wayne, Ind., meant the team was having a hard time.
They managed to pull themselves back in time for the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, where they qualified for the Paralympics with a silver-medal win.
Despite facing Brazil in the final and a team that, as Welborn describes, “always plays with such heart that makes every game against them a challenge and a pleasure”, he recalls the semi-final match as the biggest competition in Lima.
“The toughest game for us was against Canada. That was the game that we had been waiting forever for, since our loss against Lithuania at the [qualification tournament]. That was the game that got us to Tokyo, and that was the moment that had been on my mind since I was a kid getting started in goalball, so mentally there was a lot riding on that.”
It was almost inevitable that a young Welborn would find himself involved with the sport, with both mom, and now dad, being referees.
“I’m very fortunate that I got started so young but to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really like it. It was a social event for me and a way to satisfy a need for competition since I was too blind to play other sports. Despite me not really liking getting repeatedly hit with a three-pound ball, my mom and my coach pushed me to continue – and I’m so glad that they did. Goalball has shown me the value of persistence, patience, and the hunger and desire to persevere. As I continued to show up to practice my love for the sport grew, and the rest is history.”
Tokyo 2020 will be Welborn’s first Paralympics, where he looks forward to the experience and competition as well as being able to connect with other athletes from around the world.
“Honestly, I’m so excited for it all” he beams, but is also aware of offsetting everyday life as the Games edge closer.
“The balance between college and athletic life is challenging, there’s no lying about that. Whether it be traveling to a different time-zone and trying to fight the jet lag just to get that next assignment done, or trying to explain goalball to your professors and hoping they understand and care enough to let you miss more class than you would normally be allowed to, it’s always difficult.”
Despite the challenges, Welborn is clear about continuing with both and how much his life has been enriched by the sport.
“Goalball helps me to trust people in my daily life. Being blindfolded all the time definitely helps you to be able to rely on others. Even though I struggle with these kinds of things still, I’m not perfect and I think goalball helps me to work out those kinds of things, directly and indirectly”.
Looking to next year, the goal for the team is clear.
“I think I can speak for everyone involved with the team when I say that we expect nothing less than success, and to us that is and always will be a spot at the top of the podium with gold around our necks. Our biggest strength is our ability to learn from our mistakes as well as our success. We communicate a lot, which if you ask me is the most important factor for success in goalball. I see nothing but good things on the horizon”.
Goalball gets underway at Tokyo 2020 on August 25, 2021, at Makuhari Messe Hall C.