Tough and rewarding: Goalball stars discuss juggling sports, work, family

Canadian Paralympic Committee

December 13, 2022

Athletes currently competing at world championships


OTTAWA – Canadian national team goalball player Amy Burk is a full-time high-performance athlete, a full-time student, and a mother of two young children. On the surface, it appears a daunting challenge for the 32-year-old visually impaired athlete.

But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s tough and rewarding,” she said earlier this month before going overseas for the world championships, currently being held in Portugal. Burk and her teammates on the women’s squad are a perfect 5-0 so far in preliminary round action.

“I started a school program in June just to make it even crazier. It’s busy but I like showing my kids I can do pretty much anything. I’m like a non-stop Mom. I love being busy.”

Burk is in a 10-month medical laboratory technician program at Algonquin College.

“It really helps having time management, but I also have great support from my family, my parents, and my husband’s family, as well as our national association and high-performance staff.”

Burk’s example is certainly an inspiration for her teammates both on the women’s and men’s teams.

“I’ve tapped into Amy Burk,’’ said Burk’s teammate Meghan Mahon of Timmins, Ont., now based in Calgary. “She’s the glue that keeps things together and I don’t think anyone would disagree. She’s a captain who knows the team’s strengths, knows when to hand some things off and knows when to say you got this.”

Mahon, 26, works as a child and youth worker for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in Calgary where she sees firsthand the difficulties for parents to get their visually impaired kids into sports.

“I’m very fortunate to work with the children and youth,” she said. “I can really promote it is OK to get into sports. But parents have so many things to worry about – doctor appointments, education – so sports may not be on top of their list to get involved in right away.

“There is also a fear of injury or not doing well. Still we’re seeing more of an uptake at least here in Calgary of those wanting to get involved.”

Further north in Edmonton, Blair Nesbitt from the men’s goalball team has worked in financial planning with the Government of Alberta for the past eight years. He uses his sound financial judgement in applying accounting principles for the divisions operations, policy changes, and strategic direction.

This is a typical day and evening for the busy Nesbitt, who has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

“I work Monday to Friday, and I’ll usually do my workouts immediately after work at the gym,” said Nesbitt, also an athlete representative on the Canadian Blind Sports Association board. “I’ll do strength and conditioning, then come home and heat up one of the meals I’ve prepared for the week. In addition, a lot of my appointments for chiro and physio massage are in the evening. On the weekend I practice with the provincial team and then there are the camps and tournaments with the national team.”

Veteran player Doug Ripley runs his own business as a registered massage therapist. The father of two adults, he enjoys the freedom of being self-employed but when he is not working, there is no money.

“The business does keep me busy, but I’m in control of my schedule which helps for training and time away,” said the 49-year-old three-time Paralympian, whose men’s team has a draw and four losses so far at worlds. “I know a lot of guys have trouble getting the time off for events and really struggle with that. For me it’s a struggle of financial limits, but I don’t have the pressure from an employer.”

Ripley, committed to helping the Canadian men’s team return to the Paralympics in 2024, says life balance is a key to a long career on and off the court.

“It’s important to be structured in training and work schedule. Also making sure there is time with family and friends to stay sane and balanced. But definitely during these busy times it gets a little more centered to goalball with a big three week trip to worlds right before Christmas. 

“I thank my family for being so supportive through this.”

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