Most of you reading this are familiar with Camp Spark, our comprehensive week-long summer & winter summer and winter camp for youth and young adults who are blind and visually impaired. Most of the seven Camp Spark sessions, offered throughout the year, are tailored to all campers regardless of their skill levels or ability. However, one session through Camp Spark is a high-performance blind soccer camp targeted to individuals who play at a competitive level and this year we added goalball to the curriculum.
This elite session was held this past April at Camp Namanu in Sandy, Oregon, by invitation only to youth and young adults, ages 10-21, with competitive blind soccer or goalball skills. This year, campers received intensive instruction, practice and gameplay in the Paralympic sports of goalball and blind soccer lead by U.S. Association of Blind Athletes Sports Ambassadors Eliana Mason, from Beaverton OR, and Ricky Castaneda of Fort Worth.
We were thrilled provide the opportunity for our athletes to train with these elite athletes. Eliana Mason is a two-time Paralympic medalist in goalball, winning bronze at the Rio 2026 Paralympic Games and silver at the Tokyo 2020 Games. She is also currently training as a member of the USA women’s goalball team for Paris 2024. Ricky Castaneda is a member of the USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team.
Throughout the weekend, our campers participated in a series of conditioning exercises, which gave them a taste of what it is like to train at a competitive level. The weekend wrapped with scrimmages in each sport, giving everyone the chance to put all of their skills into practice.
Sessions like this have an impact that goes way beyond sport. At the end of the session, after receiving the post-camp assessment, one parent replied, “She had the best time. You all make her life so much easier and more joyful!”. The mentorship the campers received from Eliana and Ricky, athletes who were once in their place, is something that will continue to extend far beyond the court as well.