Reni Jackson lost much of his sight, but he never lost his competitiveness.
After his eyesight deteriorated when he was a teenager, the Louisville native continued to thrive in sports. He eventually became a star in the niche sport of goalball, which was created to aid the blind.
Last month Jackson and the rest of the 1984 men’s Paralympic gold-medal winning goalball team were inducted into the United States Association of Blind Athletes Hall of Fame.
Jackson’s playing days are over, but the memories remain strong.
“To be able to do everything that I have done through sports is fortunate,” the 59-year-old grandfather said. “Back when I started playing the only thing that was wrong with me was my eyes. I’ve been to all over the world: Canada, South Africa, Holland, Denmark, Germany and Korea.”
Jackson was a 15-year-old freshman at Valley High School when he started to lose his vision. He wore glasses but never encountered a serious problem until he could no longer read small type or see the blackboard in school.
He enrolled at the Kentucky School for the Blind that year and was diagnosed with a deteriorating-eye condition that rendered him legally blind.
“The realization that I was blind scared me to death,” he said. “But once I got in (the School for the Blind), I found out that I was just like everybody else. All the students were blind or visually impaired. I fit right in.”
Sports played a big role in Jackson’s life. He participated in track and field (shot-put and high jump). And as a 175-pound wrestler, he was the Kentucky state runner-up for the School for the Blind in 1970. After high school, he started to learn from a former coach about goalball.
Goalball was invented in 1946 by an Austrian and a German to help in the rehabilitation of blind war veterans, according to the International Blind Sports Federation website. It made its international debut at the 1976 Paralympics in Toronto.
Goalball is played on a rectangular court by two teams of three players. The court is split in half with goals at each end. The ball, which has bells in it, is rolled toward the opposing goal. The team on the other side is positioned in front of the net to try to block the ball from entering the net.
Participants wear blacked-out goggles so everyone is completely sightless.
“Instead of it being an eye-hand coordination sport, it’s an auditory and tactile sport,” said Mark Lucas, executive director of the USABA.
Jackson was a part of Team USA in 1984 when it defeated Egypt for the Paralympics gold in New York City. The U.S. hasn’t won a gold medal in the event since.
Lucas said the 1984 team has a special place in Paralympic history.
“The team never gave up,” he said. “The fact that there hasn’t been a goal-medal team since tells you something. That was a hell of a team.”
Jackson played goalball for 15 years, participating in the Paralympics and the world championships three times each. He was last involved in the sport when he coached briefly in 2005.
The activity was physical enough to take a toll; he’s had both knees replaced.
Jackson has been married for 16 years and has a daughter and two grandchildren. His daughter, who also is visually impaired, played goalball and once tried out for the Paralympic team.
Jackson’s vision has worsened in recent years. He can walk without the use of a cane but said that might change in a few years. His straight-ahead vision is blurry, but he can see from the sides.
He takes the bus to work at the Hall of Justice where he runs a food-service business. His sister drove him to Delaware for the Hall of Fame ceremony.
“It showed that I could accomplish anything that I set my mind to,” he said. “I might have a little bit of a disability but I can go out, train. Even with a handicap I’m able to do anything I want to do.”
Original article can be found here: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20100710/SPORTS/7100347/Legally-blind-athlete-driven-to-compete-no-matter-what