A Sport For The Blind Broadens Perspectives

By: CBS News Copy Email
By: CBS News Copy Email

CBS News Copy

(CBS News) BERKELEY, Calif. - It was an activity first designed to help returning World War II veterans, blinded in battle. It has since become a competitive sport, including in the Paralympics. Now, it's even more: Something that bridges divides between people who live in different worlds.

With a mask over his eyes, Alec Sundly is learning to play Goalball, a game created for the blind.

"It's absolutely pitch dark. It's very hard to see, and I'm already losing balance," Sundly said.

Goalball has been a Paralympic sport since 1976. It is played by blind athletes at a high level. In a gym at the University of California Berkeley, the players are both blind and sighted.

"All of a sudden, the tables turn, and people who have always been sighted realize, 'wow, this is a very different reality," said Professor Derek Van Rheenen.

Judith Lung lost her sight soon after she was born but she has never lost sight of her desire for equality.

"We can also be just as fit and competitive and have as much fun as everyone else," Lung said.

The rules of Goalball are simple: The lines on the court are marked with tape. The ball has bells in it so players can hear it coming. Spectators have to remain quiet. That includes Van Dyke, Judith's guide dog.

Attackers throw the ball hoping to get it past the opposing team. Defenders try to block the shot with their bodies.

When the game is underway it is hard to tell the blind from the sighted, and that's the point.

Alec Sundly, an athlete who plays varsity soccer, can be humbled by an opponent who has held a ball but never seen one.

"It's shown me a whole new perspective, and I personally respect a lot of what Judith does," Sundly said.

"We are all in this together, in spite of our disabilities, and we can all just achieve our dreams and have fun together," Lung said.

And that togetherness, even if they're not always together, doesn't end when the class is over.

"They are now having lunch together, talking, understanding each other's perspectives in a way that has not happened," Professor Van Rheenen said. "I didn't expect that."

Putting on a blindfold, it seems, can sometimes be a real eye-opener.

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