Off court challenges never stopped Bruno Haché. Goalball national team member went to four Paralympic Games

It wasn’t easy for Bruno Haché to carve a pathway to a four Paralympic Games experience with Canada’s national goalball team.

Goalball is a sport that is not widely known to the general public. It is one of the few Paralympic sports that does not have an Olympic counterpart. It is a sport for people with a visual impairment although recreationally anybody can play as all players wear an eye covering.

When Haché first started, he said government funding for the sport was limited and only improved about halfway through his national team career. National team athletes got financial help through Sport Canada carding and the Canadian Blind Sports Association covered expenses for only major events like the world championships and Paralympic Games.

Haché says training camps, smaller tournaments, and other expenses came out of pocket.

Times were tough for Haché, married with now an adult son, who was torn between the dedication to his sport at the sacrifice of valuable family time.

“My family was my biggest support,” said Haché, a maintenance worker at the Institut Nazareth et Louis-Braille. “It wasn’t easy for them or for me. I was focused on one objective and to be away from home was hard for me.

“But to see their never-ending support through those times brought peace for me. They wanted to see me happy.”

Bruno throwing the goalball

When Haché decided to become a goalball player 21 years ago, he was all in.  

“I wasn’t the best scorer but I was always one of the fittest,” said Haché, now 45, who started losing his vision at 18 and now has five percent vision. “I can remember my first practice, I was wondering what this goalball sport was all about. I come from a hockey background and I needed to move.

“After just doing the warmup for that first practice I was completely burned out and the coach tells me there’s still two hours of practice left. And I thought this is the sport for me.”

To maintain his fitness to the standards of a high performance athlete, Haché worked full time sometimes on evenings or weekends along with his rigorous training schedule in order to contribute to his family living and sport expenses.

“My biggest challenge at the beginning was motivation,” he admitted. “After working all day there were times I didn’t feel like going to training. Yet those toughest days were probably my best in training. I was able to change my frustrations into energy. I was challenging myself and I was developing self-discipline.”

Haché says fundraising events like ParaTough Cup can relieve the financial pressure on athletes to travel to camps or connect with their national team teammates more often.

“Canada is a big country and travel is costly,” he said. “I often trained on my own. You need to work with the other players in order to develop a chemistry and have access to coaches to work, in my case, on my defensive game which was a problem area for me.”

Through his many years with the national team, Haché has seen the sport grow from a niche operation to a full-fledged professional and scientific sport through provincial and national programs with nutritional, psychological and other sports sciences support.

At the international level, countries like Brazil and the USA, Canada’s top opponents in the Americas for usually two Paralympic Games spots, are consistently raising the skill-level bar along with other European nations.

Haché points out that when he started the highest speed for throwing the 1.25 kilogram ball was 61 kilometres an hour. Today that’s the average with the top players reaching speeds of 80 kilometres an hour.

After retiring from the national team in 2022, Haché has returned to first sport: blind hockey.

“In 2018, there was a Team Canada program, the sport has some uniformity with the rules and there are Canadian championships now. It’s a great transition for me from goalball to stay in shape.

“Who knows, maybe one day I can go to a fifth Paralympics. That’s my dream.”