Turnstone to Tokyo with Eliana Mason
July 23rd, 2021
Eliana Mason is preparing for her second Paralympic Games after competing with the United States Women’s Goalball team at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. She is excited for the cohesion her team will bring to the court after having time to train together in the Goalball Center of Excellence at Turnstone. She shares that in hindsight, the COVID-19 pandemic gave the team more time to prepare and they are more eager to compete than ever. Learn more by listening to our conversation with Eliana below.
Q: How are you feeling after being named to the Goalball Team that will represent the country at the Paralympics?
A: Really excited. I went to the 2016 Rio Paralympic games, and that was a huge honor, but we didn't have the same support. We didn't have a training site, we didn't have the same team or the buildup. And so this past quad, I moved out here from Oregon to commit to training to try to make the Tokyo team. So there's been a lot of sacrifice along the way, a lot of hard work, training, and dedication. To officially get named to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic team was amazing and such an honor, and I cannot wait to go to Tokyo.
Q: How did COVID impact your preparation for Tokyo?
A: It kind of put us to a stop and we had to really recalibrate. Everything we do is to peak for certain competitions at certain times. And so last year we were starting to ramp up for the end game stuff and COVID hit and we had to just stop and everything had to switch to at-home workouts. I can't tell you how many ways I learned how to do a pushup last year, even did some handstand pushups. So I actually went home to Oregon for a little bit of time to spend some time with family and friends and kind of just get rejuvenated.
Then, in the fall we came back together as a team and got reconnected. And we're like, okay, we're almost a year out. Like, let's go, let's get this. And I guess the best way to look at it is, it was an extra year of time to prepare and get ready and to train. You can never argue with extra time to prepare for something.
Q: What does a normal training day look like for you at the height of your season?
A: Yeah, so right now we are training five days a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday is on-court practice and Tuesday, Thursdays are weightlifting. It's so much more, though, than just the time we spend on the court or in the weightlifting room. We have nutrition. Our entire day of eating is revolved around our training schedule. We have recovery that we do, we have warmups and stretches. So, we may have practice at 12 or, you know, a 9am practice, but you want to get there early to warm up and stretch. And then afterwards do a lot of recovery, nutrition wise, and use the Normatec or whatever recovery tools we have to our disposal.
Q: How will the team prepare for the Paralympics? How does this differ from other seasons?
A: I would say in general, it's similar because every summer there's usually something big, whether that be World Championships or the Para Pan American games, which we went to in 2019, or, you know, the big one, the Paralympics. What we do is our strength coach EJ, he has us on like cycles. And so last fall, for example, was really strength building. We were doing heavier lifting sets of four by five, really just trying to build up that muscle. And then I would say from January to March, we were doing a lot of pre-season work. It was a lot of Tabata [high intensity interval training] or conditioning, lots of sprints, lots of battle ropes, and lots of sled pushes. And so that's where we were really building up that endurance and that cardio. And then, right now, we're in a maintenance phase. A lot of the stuff we're doing is two by five in the weight room. We’re just trying to maintain all that hard work we put in because the real work right now is happening on the court.
Q: What does it mean to you to compete at the top level of your sport?
A: It's an incredible honor. I love Goalball. And to compete at the Paralympics on a world stage of this caliber for Team USA, it's so incredible and it's such a unique, cool opportunity. You work so hard towards something and you have this big goal at the end of it to go to the Paralympics and win a gold medal. It's so tangible and it's so close and I can't wait to walk into our first game and just finally get to be on the court and compete.
Q: What advice would you give to youth who have ambitions of competing at the Paralympics?
A: I would say that it's worth it. There's a lot of sacrifice you have to make. It's not always easy. You're going to have days where you leave practice in tears. After my senior year of high school, I had an option to either go to Greece for the summer or go to Youth Worlds. And at the time the coach told me I'd never make an adult level team if I didn't prioritize youth. And so I chose Goalball over Greece and it was hard but now here I am nine years later going to Tokyo for the Paralympics.
So there's a lot of sacrifice and you're going to miss things or you're going to have hard days, but you're also going to have great days and you're going to have some amazing highs, but at the end of it all, it’s worth it. It is such a journey and there's so much experience. I've been to seven or eight different countries and met so many different athletes across the world, and even other USA Paralympic athletes. And so it is just so incredible. Take your time, soak it all in and just know at the end of the day, it's all worth it.
Q: What are you most looking forward to with Tokyo?
A: To compete. I feel like that's such a cliché answer, but I just want to compete. Especially after COVID and having 18 months of no competition, I think that drive or that inner “let's go, let's do this,” is higher than ever. So I’m just looking forward to competing and to really just give it all we have and to try to bring home a gold medal for Team USA in Goalball.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Goalball?
A: I like that it makes me feel empowered. It puts every athlete on an equal playing field. I grew up in a very athletic sports oriented family, and I love sports, but I couldn't compete at the same level as my peers and I wanted to. I discovered Goalball when I was about 14 or 15, and I'm not going to say I loved it at first because I didn't, but I loved that it was something different and something to try. Once I actually started to play more and compete, I absolutely fell in love with the sport. But at the end of the day, when you put on those eyeshades, it doesn't matter if you have some sight, if you have perfect sight or if you have basically just light perception, we're all equal.
And so for the first time ever [Goalball] allowed me to be an athlete first and just play and train and show what I can do and not have to work 10 times harder to just work through those obstacles you have in everyday life with vision loss.
Q: Do you have any “words to live by” that you’re carrying with you into the Paralympic Games?
A: So I actually just read this really great book by Brené Brown. She does a lot of work with courage, strength, and vulnerability and something she wrote that stood out to me is, “choose courage over comfort”. I try to apply that to goalball, but also just in everyday life, because things can feel really intimidating at times or scary, or it can be easy to stick with what you know. And so reminding yourself “choose courage” means make that active choice to be courageous and push yourself out of your comfort zone. And that's how you're going to be your best self.
Q: Is there anything else you want to say on behalf of the Women’s team?
A: I just want to recognize how grateful we are for Turnstone. Goalball is hard. It's not like basketball. We can just go show up at a gym and play. We have to have a court and we have to have goals and we have to have the eye shades and the ball. So to be able to just come in here and play and have our team out here, even on our off time, if we want to go in and work on stuff we can. So, thank you to Turnstone and to Fort Wayne for having us here and making goalball a part of your community.