Calahan Young competes at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 31, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
You can’t miss Calahan Young on the goalball court. He’s 6-foot-5, meaning his body covers two of the court’s nine meters in width.
The 25-year-old U.S. Paralympic hopeful is getting rave reviews from coaches about his progress and potential, and has been using his height to his advantage.
“When you dive out, you’re in a Superman position where you’re fully flexed outward,” Young said. “When you’re taller, you have more opportunity to get to that blocking position. If I do mess up, I still end up snagging the ball with my feet or my hands just because I’m so tall. It’s an extra bonus.”
Young grew up playing team sports in Pittsburgh and comes from a tall, athletic family — his father is 6-foot-4, his mother is 5-foot-11, his sister is 6-foot and grew up playing AAU travel soccer and his brother is 6-foot-4 and grew up playing AAU travel basketball.
Young himself played baseball, basketball and football as child, but retinitis pigmentosa, which causes substantial vision loss, kept him from fully excelling at times. So after being introduced to goalball during a demonstration event for visually impaired kids in middle school, he jumped at the chance to be part of “the coolest sport that nobody has ever heard of.”
Young, whose vision is now that of looking through two straws, quickly rose up the ranks to become a part of the U.S. team that finished eighth at the 2018 world championships and second at the 2019 Parapan American Games. There, he scored 15 of the team’s 62 goals in its 5-1 performance to earn the squad a qualification spot for the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, since postponed to 2021.
Along the way, he’s picked up two nicknames on the international goalball scene — “calzone” because he loves pizza and his teammates always say he’s in the zone, and “two-meter man,” a reference given to him by all the fans at the Parapan American Games.
Thus far, he’s tried to model his behavior on and off the court after “The King,” also known as NBA legend Lebron James.
“No matter what, he’s always level-headed and straightforward, always donating to his community and giving back,” Young said of James. “I’ve always looked at him as someone empowering who propels his team forward while also being a good human being at the same time. I always strive to be like him to impact more than just the team or myself.”
While three trips to Europe this spring were canceled for the U.S. goalball team due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Young has stuck it out training for Tokyo at the Turnstone Center in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, which serves at the full-time athlete residency program for USA Goalball. He’s spending all of his excess time and extra year ahead of Tokyo upping his strength, burning over 1,500 calories per practice and 2,000 calories per weight session.
“It’s such an intense sport on the body, so we’re always trying to fuel properly,” Young said. “Goalball’s so unique in that you’re on the floor and your heart rate is going down. You block a ball. You get up and do an intense movement. You get back down and block a ball.”
He recently made a drastic cut of all sweets from his diet, but luckily his metabolism is so fast that his body will hardly notice when he sneaks himself the occasional Ben and Jerry’s ice cream as a reward.
As a co-captain of the U.S. team alongside Tyler Merren, Young is expected to be one of the six players named to the U.S. Paralympic Team for Tokyo from the nine who are remaining as potential picks. The expectations are high for the program, coming off a silver-medal performance at Rio 2016, its first Paralympic podium finish in 12 years. The U.S. has now had more men’s goalball Paralympic medals than any other nation, and since 1976 the U.S. men’s and women’s teams have earned a combined 11 Paralympic medals and 11 world championship titles.
Young certainly knows the storied program he’s walking into, and his expectations sound like he’s been on the squad for decades.
“A successful Games for us is definitely winning gold,” Young said. “This is my first quad, and it’s definitely been a shaky one. We didn’t perform as well as we wanted to at the world championships and a few other tournaments, so now we are buckling down with a new coaching staff that is leading the ship in a really good direction. Our goal and our mission is to win gold.”