Visually impaired athlete thrives in U.S. |

Visually impaired athlete thrives in U.S.

A near-fatal fall as a little girl in Mexico changed the life of Brenda Calzada and that of her family, for the good in most ways. Now, in 2006, Calzada and her two teammates won the junior U.S Goal Ball Paralympics championships.

Calzada was a second-grade student in Mexico City, running freely, when she fell and hit her forehead on the edge of a school step. She went into a coma for nearly four days. After regaining consciousness she began to lose her vision. Calzada eventually returned to school, but had a series of additional accidents due to her failing eyesight.

"I was having too many accidents, which cost the school a lot of money," Calzada said. "They didn’t want me." She was asked not to return to her school from the second grade on. Her father decided that Calzada needed more opportunities. With hard work, he obtained green cards for her, her mother and himself. They left Mexico City after Calzada had been out of school for four years. They moved to the United States to begin a new life. None of them spoke English. They moved to Park City, where Calzada’s aunt lived, and could help them with the transition into a new way of life.

Calzada is now a 14-year-old student at Treasure Mountain International Middle School, in the English Language Learners program. She is fluent in English after only three years of speaking the language. She said she really likes her ELL teacher Holly Gooch. "She’s always motivating us," Brenda said.

Calzada spoke of her school life. "I love school. My only dream is to go to school. Even if my eyes don’t get better, I don’t care. School’s amazing for me." She said she loves math and sports. Besides goal ball, she plays basketball, which she learned in Mexico.

Calzada, whose eyesight was helped greatly with the glasses she wears, is still considered legally blind, although she believes she can see pretty well. She was contacted by the Utah Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired. It was there that she was introduced to goal ball.

Goal ball is a Paralympic sport played during the summer Olympics. It is played on a court about the size of a volley ball court. The game is played with three blindfolded players on a team, one of whom is a goalie. A three-pound ball, the size of a basketball, has bells in it, so the sightless players can hear it and try to catch it or at least stop it as it flies through the air toward the goal net. Players hope to intercept the ball and throw it back the opposite direction as hard as they can to pass the opposing players and score a goal.

Calzada and her teammates won the 2006 girl’s youth goal ball National Championship, held in Florida.

One of her coaches, Jalayne Engberg said of the sport, "it gets rough. Brenda may seem shy, but in goal ball, she goes all out." Engberg said that goal ball teaches life skills as much as it develops athletic prowess. She said that vision-impaired often rely on others to help them, but with goal ball, players are responsible for themselves and their teammates.

"Brenda was nervous at first," Engberg said. "But she realized she could play under pressure and then she relaxed." Calzada’s two teammates are graduating. Engberg said Calzada will have to step up and take charge, and with her being such a hard worker, Engberg is confident she will do just fine.

The head of Utah Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and one of Calzada’s goal ball coaches, Tony Jepson, believes in Calzada. "Brenda is a great young lady who has overcome a lot of challenges and continues to demonstrate significant determination to succeed not only in sports, but in school and life in general."

Calzada spoke of the opportunities life in the United States has afforded her and her parents, although her mother misses Brenda’s two older sisters, who are still in Mexico City, one of whom just had a baby. Calzada likes Park City. It’s cool here, but it’s pretty cold.

Calzada said she hopes to either become an interpreter, or a photographer. "When you can see what others don’t see, that’s amazing."

For more information on the Utah foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired, or to contribute to the organization, visit or contact Tony Jepson at or call him at (801) 209-8492

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