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Sunday, May. 19, 2019
A more padded para resume for Meghan Mahon
by Randy Pascal

"I have expanded my horizons, once again."

It could be suggested that these seven words represent the saying by which Sudbury paralympian Meghan Mahon lives her life.

The 21 year old Timmins native, who moved to this area to pursue post-secondary studies at Cambrian College some two years ago, has not slowed down a whole lot since donning the Team Canada colours as a member of the women's goalball team last September in Rio de Janeiro.

Born with a genetic cone-rod retinal condition (achromatopsia) which limits her to about 10% of normal vision, Mahon followed up a breakthrough performance in the first international competition of her life by padding her resume, this summer, with a completely different pursuit.

"Through (blind) hockey, and knowing that whole visually impaired community, I got a phone call asking me if I wanted to come down and play beep baseball," she explained recently. "I had never played before. Baseball is one of those sports that is kind of hard for the visually impaired," she added with a smile.

Nothing, however, seems too difficult a challenge for Mahon to conquer. Making her debut with the national women's goalball team in Brazil, the talkative multi-sport athlete rose quickly through the ranks.

"Going in as the only rookie on that team and coming out as the starting centre on the national team kind of put me in shock," she admitted. For the uninitiated, goalball teams consist of three players on a gymnasium floor, per side, with the basic idea to roll a fair-sized ball containing three bells past the opposing defenders, into a very large net.

"It’s kind of a mixture of dodgeball, or perhaps the opposite of dodgeball, and high intensity bowling,” suggested Mahon, prior to leaving for the 2016 Paralympics. Teams are positioned to defend with two wingers and one centre, with the centre located just above the height of their teammates.

"The centre runs the show on the court, calls out where the ball is and blocks the majority of the shots," explained Mahon. "Wingers traditionally shoot more. I played three and three quarters of our five games (in Brazil) at centre."

From a team standpoint, Mahon and her mates left the event more motivated than ever. "We wanted to play for a medal, but we lost in the quarter finals to the USA," she said. "We knew it was going to be tough, we play them all the time. That day, their defence shut us down."

Already behind more than three weeks in her schooling, Mahon quickly immersed herself into her academic priorities at Cambrian, now benefitting from having reached the status of a carded athlete, and able to limit the demands on her time mostly to school and sport.

With one of those two on the sidelines for summer months, the time was right to agree to another adventure, attending the Beep Baseball World Series in West Palm Beach (Florida) as a member of the Toronto Blind Jays.

"With fundraising and some support, we were able to narrow it down to mostly our food while we were there, but we drove 26 hours straight from Toronto to get there," she stated. The trek came directly on the heels of a week-long training camp in Scarborough in which Mahon was introduced, in short fashion, to the very basics of beep baseball.

"You play totally blindfolded, except the pitcher on your team is sighted (teams pitch to their own team) and the catcher on your team is sighted," said Mahon. "You have two sighted spotters on the field. Once the ball is hit, they are able to yell one number, and one number only."

"Teams will generally divide the field in half (left and right), and in those halves, they are divided into lanes." It is basically those lanes to which the spotters are referring with their numerical call at the time of the hit.

The rudimentary notion of the game is fairly straightforward - once a ball is hit, batters must run to one of two sound equipped bases before any of the opposing fielders comes up with full and complete control of the ball.

The bases are situated, more or less, where first and third would be located on a standard diamond. A game official, behind home plate, signals one of the two bases to sound once the ball is in play, and it is to this base that the hitter must proceed.

Make it there before the ball is retrieved and you score a run. Arrive late, and you're out. Runners do not remain on base beyond that initial sequence. "It's kind of a safety thing," Mahon stated with a laugh.

The ball is slightly larger and softer than a standard softball. There are a few other variations of note from the sport to which most Canadians would be far more familiar, but there are certainly several very apparent cross-overs.

As in Brazil, Mahon proved to be an ultra quick study. "It took me a full day to feel comfortable, but the goalball skills definitely kicked in," she said. "It helped in fielding, and being able to track the ball. In beep baseball, you're not wearing a baseball glove. I was actually wearing football receiving gloves, because they're sticky."

The World Series included 19 teams from the States, as well as squads from both the Carribean and Taiwan, and the sole Canadian entry. "The most enjoyable time was the game against the Carribean," Mahon recalled. "It was the first beep baseball game in history that did not involve a US team, and it lasted four and a half hours."

It would appear that there are simply some realities of blind sport that those of us that are sighted would give very little initial thought to. "It was very hot, and there were a couple of injuries," said Mahon. "But there was also lawn maintenance going on across the street."

"With big industrial lawnmowers operating, we had timeouts being called all of the time." Given that the entire game is predicated on the ability to hear clearly, whether one is trying to hit or field the ball, or reach base, any loud external noises can be more than a little problematic.

Picture the neighbourhood ball hockey game of your youth, on a very busy street. Non stop "CAR" delays might be a tad frustrating. Not that Mahon was feeling any of it. "The atmosphere was great," she noted. "The coach told me I have my spot for next year on the team."

Just 19 hours after her arrival back in Toronto, Mahon and three of her goalball teammates were off to Japan, site of a tournament that also included Korea and Greece. With national teams now targetting a spot in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, efforts are being made to stage pre-Para events in the host country.

Mahon, for one, is confident of a return appearance - for beyond the horizon, lies her next incredible journey.

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