Jen Armbruster: How I became a Paralympian

By Jen Armbruster | April 22, 2013, 2 p.m. (ET)
Jen Armbruster
Jen Armbruster has represented Team USA across the globe. A competitor at six Paralympic Games, she has three medals in women's goalball, including a gold from the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, where she also served as the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony.

My name is Jen Armbruster. I am a six-time Paralympian in the sport of goalball. I have had the privilege of representing my country on all levels of the podium and have also represented my country and not won a medal. I have done it all. In 2008, I had the honor and privilege of leading our delegation in to the Bird's Nest as the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games, a competition where Team USA also took home gold in women’s goalball.

 Jen Armbruster
Jen Armbruster was the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. The Games marked her fifth consecutive.

My 20 plus year journey to the top of my sport started in 1989 as a 14 year old who started having eye pain in one eye. Then three months later, I had pain in the other eye.  After everything was said and done by Sept. 1989, I was legally blind.  I’m now classified as a B2 athlete, meaning I have no central vision but was left with some usable peripheral vision out of my left eye. There is still no for sure reason of my vision loss but what I do know is my incredible journey started then. 

I was always an athlete growing up. I thought basketball was going to be my ticket to college and then eventually I would follow my father’s footsteps into the military.  With my vision loss, my goals and dreams changed a bit but I was still an athlete.

A reporter for the local Colorado Springs paper wrote a Thanksgiving Day piece on a young lady, me, who was legally blind but still playing basketball at a competitive level.  A local teacher at the school for the blind looked up my unique last name and called our house and asked if I wanted to try this sport called goalball. 

I mean why not? I thought it has the word "ball" in it and it is a team sport so my father drove me downtown for my first introduction to the sport. I was able to use my basketball skills and my skills from volleyball, soccer and even softball. I was immediately hooked because of the physical element of the sport and the team concept.

So unlike some athlete’s stories, the Paralympic Movement found me rather than me finding it.

I was then thrown into the sport that summer and went to nationals, which happened to be in Colorado Springs in 1990. At that time, I learned about the United States Association of Blind Athletes, which oversees goalball in this country. I also got to meet some of the U.S. national team players and the head coach at the time. 

From that moment on, I was involved in the sport of goalball, and continued up the ranks.

Paralympic Sport Clubs, where many of today’s athletes get their start in the Paralympic Movement, did not exist when I started in goalball and would not be developed until much later in my career. However, Paralympic Sport Clubs have been very influential in my rise to the top of the sport. Through my traveling and relocation with various jobs, I have had the opportunity to be a part of many outstanding Paralympic Sport Clubs such as the Lakeshore Foundation and Oregon Disability Sports, and thank them for their part in my success.

I've also been a Paralympic ambassador and have spoken to many Paralympic Sport Clubs about about my success in goalball, the Paralympic Movement and the growth of the Paralympic Movement since I started. I am excited to see so many clubs around the country with more and more starting each year.

The opportunities to find a variety of recreational and competitive sports are all around you. If you want to get involved, as an athlete, a coach or even just as a supporter, find a Paralympic Sport Club or another local opportunity at Clubs can foster not only sports skills but a sense of community and education never seen before in this movement.  

As a U.S. Paralympian who knows the importance of sport for people with physical and visual impairments, I hope that youth and adults throughout the country connect with at least one Paralympic Sport Club and get involved not only as a participant but as an educator and an ambassador for the Paralympic Movement.

Jen Armbruster is a six-time U.S. Paralympian. A member of the women’s goalball team, she won a gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, a silver medal at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games and a bronze medal at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games. The team finished eighth in London.