Supporting Canadian Athletes

Amy Alsop

With two Paralympic gold medals under her belt and her sights set on another in Beijing, Amy Alsop has been a key component of Canada’s rise to women’s goalball supremacy. Her commitment to the sport also goes well beyond the court, as Amy has been the athlete rep for goalball since 2005 and is working hard to promote the sport amongst the visually impaired community.

“I’m quite passionate about the sport of goalball and the way it is going and I’m focused on making sure the sport can grow,” says Amy, who has started a goalball program in Regina, Sask. “I have lots of ideas of how to expand the sport and get more people involved.”

Amy was born in Saskatoon, Sask., with a rare genetic condition that caused the rods and cones in the retina of her eye to not function properly. While her parents suspected something wasn’t right, Amy’s condition went undiagnosed until she entered kindergarten in 1983. It was her teachers who raised concern when they realized Amy couldn’t see what they were writing on the chalkboard.

“You think that everybody else is the same as you and you don’t recognize it a being anything different,” says Amy, who has 10 per cent vision. “Fortunately the condition is stable and it’s not going to get any worse.”

After her diagnosis, Amy’s parents decided to keep her in regular school rather then send her to a school for the visually impaired.

“Regardless of what I do I’m going to be living in a sighted world,” she says. “They wanted me to learn what it was like from the get go.”

And for the most part, Amy’s disability didn’t stop her from having a very normal childhood, except when it came to sports.

“I’ve always been somebody who loves sports,” Amy says. “Teachers were always hesitant to let me participate in gym, but that is all I wanted to do.”

Her chance to shine came at age 14 when the Canada Games Council announced it was integrating disabled sports into the 1993 Games. Soon after the announcement, the Saskatchewan Blind Sports Association contacted Amy and asked if she was interested in swimming. Amy enthusiastically said yes and began training for the 50m freestyle. Unfortunately, she finished last at the Canada Games and quickly realized that swimming just wasn’t her thing. But all wasn’t lost, as it was at the Games where Amy first learned about goalball.

“I was willing to give anything a shot,” says Amy. “I really love team sports and team dynamics. Goalball was really for me. It was as close to hockey as I was going to get!”

Amy began playing goalball in Saskatoon and made her first provincial team in 1994. Team Saskatchewan finished last that year at nationals, but just two years later, the team became national champions. Amy was named to the national team in 1998.

Amy has competed in both the Sydney and Athens Paralympics and has brought home gold medals from both. While she won’t know until April if she’ll be on the Canadian roster for Beijing, she has high hopes not only to compete, but to again bring back gold.

“You watch on TV and you see the amazing performances of other athletes and never quite comprehend what they feel,” Amy says of competing at the Paralymics. “Being on the podium it is like an out of body experience. You’re literally on top of the world.”

In 2005, Amy put her name forward to become goalball’s athlete rep and was elected by the NSO’s board of directors. (Goalball’s NSO is the Canadian Blind Sports Association.) She was acclaimed to a second term in 2007.

“I wanted to help to ensure athletes have a strong voice and to convince people of the importance of the athlete and what our needs are,” Amy says of why she ran for the position.

Amy first leaned about AthletesCAN at the 2000 Paralympics when it was announced that the Bell Athletes Connect Program would be offered in Saskatchewan. She then applied for and received a Team Investors Group Amateur Athletes Fund bursary in 2001 and attended her first AthletesCAN Forum in 2005.

“It was a real eye opener,” says Amy of the Forum experience. “It was really cool for me to meet athletes from other sports who had the same interest in affecting the sport system as I did.”

Amy says she looks forward to the Forum every year and besides enjoying the different venues and being in an athlete-centered environment, she says she learns a great deal as well.

“The Forums have taught me a lot about dealing with people, working with people and figuring out ways of getting my point across when not everyone in the room understands what my world is as an athlete,” she says.

While Amy has enjoyed her time as the athlete rep for goalball, she feels her tenure is coming to an end.

“It is important to have continuity but it is also not good for the role to rest solely on one person,” says Amy, whose position will be up for grabs in 2009. “There are some great up-and-coming leaders in our sport and I think it is important for them to have the opportunity to learn as well. The more knowledge you can spread around the sport the better.”

Amy has a bachelor of commerce degree (marketing) and completed the RBC Olympians program in Halifax in 2006. She currently works for Sasktel in Regina, Sask., and is unsure what her sport career holds for her after Beijing.

“I still really like playing and training and working for that goal,” she says. “If you had asked me a couple of years ago I would have said without a doubt that I would retire after Beijing, but now I’m not sure. I’ll have to reevaluate what I can give to the team.”

Amy’s sport honours include being part of the 2004 Canadian Sport Awards Canadian Female Team of the Year, and receiving the 2005 King Clancy Award and 2005 Saskatchewan Centennial Medal. She volunteers for the Canadian Sport Centre Saskatchewan Advisory Council.

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