This month we speak to Antonia Bunyan, who plays for RNC Hereford and Team GB.
She tells us about what it takes to be an elite goalball player, her sporting idol and hopes for the future.
Now in her 4th year as part of the international set up Antonia has risen fast through the Goalball ranks.
Still only 20 years old, she made her team GB debut at aged just 16.
Listen to the full 30 minute interview with Antonia,(with more on her goalballing heroes) or carry on reading for a shorter text version
Like most athletes Antonia was introduced to the sport at school, but her rise to elite level was dizzyingly rapid – she was diagnosed with her condition at aged 11, had a goalball taster session (courtesy of Goalball UK) at aged 14 and was playing for England just 2 years later.
While playing for her first goalball club she was spotted by a Goalball UK talent scout and invited along to some advanced training sessions. She soon became a fixture in the GB Women’s goalball squad. She describes the early days with the England squad as “amazing“.
“Being around Paralympic gold medalists is just mental, even just being on the bench and experiencing and taking all that atmosphere was just incredible. You can’t really tell somebody how amazing it is, and feels, because it’s just so special.”
How did she manage to get to this position so quickly? “I’ve always been a sporty person and I was swimming at the time I was introduced to the game. Maybe the dedication that I had in swimming, and all the skills I’d learned carried across well into goalball.”
To get to the top she believes that the most important attributes needed are determination and a lot of patience. “You need to stick with it and persevere. Under a blindfold conditions are very different. Yes, we’re visually impaired, but I’m lucky enough to have known a bit of useful vision. Having no vision, it’s a very different sort of experience and learning how to use all your senses, how to track the ball takes time and a lot of hard work.”
Her advice for young people, or those thinking of getting into the game? “Throw yourself into it and do it with no fear, that way you’ll have no regrets.”
Her sporting inspiration
Her sporting hero is Rebecca Adlington, “she was making the impossible possible the way she swam the way she did things and I think that’s where I got my inspiration. I want to achieve the impossible in Goalball.”
Antonia was a keen swimmer and was forced to choose between Swimming or Goalball, as the latter started to take up more and more of her time.
“Swimming was my passion and I still love to swim but as I started getting further into the ranks of GB goalball, it started to become difficult to juggle them both. So I did have to pick between the two and obviously it was going to be goalball.”
And why was it such an easy choice? “I just fell in love with the sport. I think it was the fact that goalball is such a unique sport. There’s no sport like it, it’s just an amazing sport, everything about it is addictive”
But it’s more than just a sport and the role of community was a big factor in her choice.
“I was still sort of figuring out how to live life being visually impaired. And it was comfort that I was around people who were visually impaired, we’re a family. There’s no words to describe how special that environment is.”
Back on the court, training and tactics
She’s now back on the court after Corona-virus restrictions eased but it took a little bit of getting used to.
“It was a funny feeling at first, you know, I haven’t run around with blindfold on for a while. So that was a bit strange.“
The last few months have been a challenge for Antonia as they have for many people. However thanks to her elite status she has been able to use some resources to get in additional bits of kit to help with training, and while there is no substitute for being on the court, it wasn’t all bad.
“I don’t think I particularly lost much during the lock down because I was basically training and living as a full time athlete as university was finished. And that was probably the one great part of lockdown, just constantly training and having that time.”
Antonia is lucky in that she studies and plays for the same university team, and is able to fit playing around her timetable. Have a coach as a tutors is a big help. Her college, RNC, is specifically for blind and VI students and she finds this a real advantage, “..to have that opportunity to be in that environment and have all the specialist equipment is great.”
Her training now is all about working on the technical side of the game. Making small incremental changes to the way she is throwing the ball and moving around the court to push her onto the next level.
“I’m learning how to break your shot down, so I can develop different types of shot, and make sure the angles I’m throwing the ball at are how they should be. As a high level player you need to be able to throw a variety of shots. It’s about finding your unique way of doing this and learning how to use your body in the most effective way.”
It’s this variety of shot that adds a real competitive advantage to the best teams when they attack.
“A bigger variety means there’s a wider range of tactics that can be used. For example if you throw a smooth shot all the time, the defenders will get used to defending it, so having a variety of throws is what makes our attack more difficult for opposition.”
And now that’s she’s back on the court and thinking about the future, what’s her ambition in the sport?
“I would love to get to a Paralympic Games. We were so close qualifying for Tokyo. If we work hard, I believe that we’ll be able to do it.”
We hope Antonia fulfills here Paralympic dream, and thank her for speaking with us.
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New to goalball? Here is an introduction to the sport of Goalball
Listen to more of our interviews with adaptive sports players and coaches below.