Fort Wayne is a community with a big heart. From the support of Turnstone, a local organization creating possibilities for individuals of all abilities, to the love from the Fort Wayne community, Eliana Mason, Goalball Paralympic athlete, knows the value of having a whole community behind you!

We sat down with Mason to learn more about what it means to be a Paralympic athlete. Plus, join us in learning more about goalball, and how Turnstone and Fort Wayne have supported Mason along the way.

Locally Loved Fort Wayne: Eliana Mason

Q: Tell us a little about Turnstone and the U.S. Women’s Goalball team.

As a Paralympic athlete in the sport of Goalball, Turnstone’s resident program has made all of the difference in our training success for the summer Tokyo Paralympic games. Previously in 2016, we would train every couple of months. Members of the team are from across the country. Some of my teammates are from Utah, Colorado, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. I am from Portland, Oregon and so moving across the country four years ago was a big move, but Turnstone accepted the goalball athletes and me specifically with open arms. If you need anything you can count on the staff at Turnstone to support you and whatever you need to be successful.

Lisa Czechowski pitches the ball down the court during the Women’s Goalball Finals Game against China in the IBSA 2019 Goalball & Judo International Qualifier event held in Fort Wayne this summer

Q: Can you talk us through the sport Goalball?

Even though Goalball is for blind athletes, you have to see it to understand it. Essentially, it is three on three on a volleyball-sized court. The court has string lines that are taped down so athletes can feel where they are at, and all athletes wear blacked-out eyeshades, so no matter your level of vision loss it is equalized. The sport is played with a ball about the size of a basketball that has bells in it, so you can hear it at all times. 

On defense, players are low to the ground and listening for the ball to be thrown. To defend the goals, players dive out and block the ball with their bodies. 

“Some joke that Goalball is like reverse dodgeball in that you want to be hit with the ball! If you’re not getting hit, something went wrong,” says Mason.

On offense, players do a full approach and throw the ball underhand towards the opponents. The ball has to hit the ground before crossing the highball line or it is a penalty. At the elite level, balls could be thrown upwards of 35-40 mph. Players have about a second or less to react and position their bodies to block the ball and immediately get up and return the ball. 

Q: What does it mean to you to be a Paralympic Athlete? Can you describe how the Turnstone and Fort Wayne communities have supported you?

It is an honor to be a Paralympic athlete, and there is a lot of pride that comes along with it. As you work hard to train and be the best you can be, it is an honor to represent your country in something you love. And being a part of the Turnstone and Fort Wayne community is really unique and exciting. 

There are 22 Paralympic sports and goalball is the only sport that doesn’t have an able body partner sport that people might also know. You can see basketball and wheelchair basketball, and even though you may not know the specific rules of wheelchair basketball you can still conceptualize basketball in wheelchairs. With goalball, you really don’t have anything to compare it to. So, being in Fort Wayne and in the Turnstone community, where people know your sport and how hard you work is really unique. You could be out and about, and someone will recognize you and ask “how’s training” or “how was your last tournament.” It is a really unique and exciting feeling to have your community know how hard you are working and putting into something. 

The USA Women’s Goalball Team earned a second place finish earning them qualification to the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Q: Can you describe how you’re feeling with the Paralympic Games just around the corner?

I am feeling excited and ready to compete. With the extra year, due to COVID, it really gave us an extra year to prepare. At this point, we are ready to GO! We’ve worked hard to train, and we are where we need to be to compete at our best. So, I am really excited and can’t wait to get there and play the sport I love. 

Q: What else should we be watching during the Paralympic Games?

Of course, you should watch goalball! From sitting volleyball to wheelchair rugby, which is really intense, all of the sports are so engaging. There, of course, are the big events like Paralympic Swimming and Paralympic Track with a bunch of different events and athletes. Whatever you can watch,  you should because you will be astonished and amazed at the level of talent you’ll see. 

Rapid Round Visitor Questions:

Q: Do you have any favorite restaurants you recommend? 

I am definitely a foodie and love restaurants. For breakfast, I love Cosmos. I am half Greek and love their greek omelet and scrambles. I also love Dash-In. On a cold day, their grilled cheese and tomato soup are delicious. Also, a consistent place I love is the Gas House. They too have delicious food and are always good!

Q: What are some of your can’t-miss Fort Wayne events?

The festivals in the summer are so fun like German Fest, Greekfest, and the Three Rivers Festival. In the winter, ice skating outdoors in Headwaters Park is fun.

Q: Where do you like to take visitors to experience Fort Wayne?

If there are any sporting events going on like a Komets, Mad Ants, or TinCaps game, you should try to work one of those in. I also love walking around downtown and exploring outside, especially in Promenade Park. Plus, there are a lot of fun things to do by just walking around!

Q: What makes Fort Wayne special to you?

The people and community in Fort Wayne are so special. Everyone is so kind and accepting, and want to learn who you are and support you. This community is so close and has each other’s back, and it is an honor to be a part of that type of community. 

Q: Do you have a favorite moment you have had in Fort Wayne?

My favorite moment in Fort Wayne is the moment that we qualified for the Tokyo Paralympic games. Only ten countries can qualify to compete at the Paralympic games. In 2019, Fort Wayne hosted a qualifying event with thirteen participating countries all competing to secure a spot. We were playing in our semifinal game, and we needed to win that game to secure our spot. We of course were on our home court and were able to have all of the U.S. Men’s team and the Turnstone staff and family in the gym to support us. Plus, our own friends and family flew in to support us. Getting to qualify for Tokyo on our home court with our friends and family was the most incredible moment. 

USA Women's Goalball