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Goalball Teammates Lisa Czechowski And Asya Miller United By Paralympic Success And Their “Goalball Bros”

By Ryan Wilson | Oct. 13, 2020, 9 a.m. (ET)

Asya Miller in action during the bronze medal game against Brazil at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016. 

 

Each Tuesday leading up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, which will be held in the summer of 2021, TeamUSA.org will introduce you to an athlete you should know prior to Tokyo – as part of the “Tokyo Tuesday” series. There’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Follow along on social media with the hashtag #TokyoTuesday.

As goalball player Lisa Czechowski does her home workout program, she has a future American Ninja Warrior at her side.

This ninja warrior-to-be, her 6-year-old son Jay, is doing push-ups and mountain climbs and chanting “Go Team USA.”

“I would say, ‘Look, see what I’m doing?” Lisa said. “It’s like ninja training.”

Czechowski is chasing her sixth Paralympic Games as a member of the United States women’s goalball team alongside longtime teammate Asya Miller. Miller, too, has been on the national team since 2000, also with five Paralympic appearances on her resume. And if that weren’t enough, both athletes also formerly competed in track and field at the Games, with Czechowski and Miller winning discus medals in 2000 in different classes. Today, Czechowski and Miller are the only members on the team to have children.

Miller’s son, Ryder, was born July 2, 2011; Jay was born three years later to the day.

Together, they are the “Goalball Bros.” 

Czechowski and Miller agree this title means Ryder and Jay have a different, more understanding eye on the disability community.

“I think there are certain prejudices he will never have, because of what he’s been exposed to.” Miller, who has Stargardt disease, said of Ryder. Stargardt is a degenerative eye disorder that starts in childhood or adolescence.

A 2017 research study out of Israel’s Bar Ilan University studied the emotional skills of able-bodied kids of disabled parents and found that children had more empathy than kids of able-bodied parents.

Lisa said she has noticed her son expressing an openness to other blind people.

“Growing up being immersed in the blindness culture has really given him a different perspective on disability,” Czechowski said. “It’s given him an acceptance. He doesn’t think anything different of someone using a guide dog or cane. He just thinks it’s kind of normal, honestly.” 

Lisa Czechowski in action during the London International Goalball Tournament match between Great Britain and USA on Dec. 3, 2011 in London.

 

Czechowski said her son has grown up filling in the gaps of what she can’t see. She was born with nystagmus and later was diagnosed with cone dystrophy. She is unable to see color, and she said Jay will describe the leaves changing colors.

“He’ll pick up a leaf, and say, ‘Mommy, this is a green, this is a yellow,’” she said. “He’ll try to show me different things so we can appreciate them together. It’s pretty cool.”

Czechowski lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Miller lives in Portland, Oregon. Both Ryder and Jay attend goalball practices and competitions in their respective areas, and Ryder even made it to the Paralympic Games London 2012 when he was 1.

Although the Goallball Bros may not be focused solely on the sport at competitions, they do find a liking toward kids, technology — iPads — when their mothers are on the court. They also enjoy the traveling.

“I tell him, for a 6-year-old, he’s done a lot of flying,” Czechowski said of Jay.

Czechowski said it can be challenging to balance family and athletic responsibilities. She said she and her husband, Jake, the head coach of the women’s national goalball team, spend time on weekends preparing for the weekdays. 

Though Jay attends an out-of-district school, Czechowski said it is convenient she and Jake work and train at Turnstone. Turnstone is the only place in the country to have Teraflex flooring, which is best for sliding, for goalball. 

“Turnstone is a really awesome facility,” Czechowski said.

Ryder, in Portland, has grown up around goalball. He went to goalball practice at nearby Portland State University every Saturday, and he would be babysat by one of Miller’s teammate’s parents.

As much goalball as Ryder has seen, Miller admits a sport like goalball might not be his sport of choice.

“I don’t think he likes to get hit by the ball,” she said. “Jay is a really good ball-sports athlete. Meanwhile, I feel Ryder is your individual sport, like swimming, non-contact sport kind of guy.”

No matter which sport, or American Ninja Warrior obstacle, Ryder or Jay pursue, Czechowski and Miller want them to see the success they have experienced in the sport: a combined five medals across two sports.

“We want to make sure we are supportive,” Lisa said. “I don’t want my son to fall because it’s hard to see your child get hurt. But I also know that my child is going to fall. That’s just part of being a kid. From all of that, that’s going to help him grow to be a more well-rounded young man as he grows up.”

Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson is a writer and independent documentary filmmaker from Champaign, Illinois. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Lisa Czechowski

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