Kevin Brousard, three time discus world title winner and blind soccer coordinator at the USABA, is a man on a mission.
After recently retiring from the US track and field team he’s turned his attention (and considerable energy) to sports administration, specifically the monumental task of building grassroots and elite blind soccer in the US, more or less from scratch!
We talk to him about blind soccer in the US, his journey through sport and more.
Listen to the full interview below, or carry on reading for a shorter text version.
Kevin’s journey through sport (and life) has been fraught by setbacks and his rise to the top was in equal measure driven by a combination of accident, sheer force of will and obvious natural ability. Now 31 the 3 time world champion has hung up his discuss and turned his attention and passion for sports to blind soccer sports administration.
It was an inauspicious start in sport for Kevin who joined his school’s track and field team just to hang out with his friends in the American football off season. He never imagined that it could lead to world discus domination let alone to building a nation’s blind soccer infrastructure.
“I never really had an interest in track and field, it was honestly more of just a social component. When you’re in high school, you want to be around your buddies.”
But as many blind athletes will testify it often isn’t as simple as just signing up, it was no different for Kevin. At first his coach wouldn’t allow him to join the team due to his visual impairment.
“In essence he was worried that I was going to get nailed by a flying discus and get injured, and that he was going to have a lawsuit on his hands.”
But Kevin wasn’t going to take no for an answer. What started out as a way of hanging out with his friends became a point of principle.
Breaking down barriers
“That was when I experienced my first real self advocacy moment… A fight or flight moment.”
Kevin decided to fight. He spent the next two weeks going to the coaches office, arguing his case and educating him on blindness and visual impairment.
“I told him straight up, ‘look man I don’t want to get hit in the head by the discus either so I’m not going to put myself in a compromising position’… Eventually he let me onto the team.”
It was that decision to fight for a place that proved pivotal, no only led his on a path to sporting glory but also helped shape his ‘can do’ attitude to life.
His decision was swiftly rewarded. Like many of the elite blind athletes we spoken to recently including US men’s goalball captain Tyler Merren and UK Goalballer Antonia Bunyon, his progress was rapid.
From what he described as a poor first year, to representing the US at the age of 17 at the US youth games, Kevin quickly developed into a world class athlete.
He went to his first World Games at 21 and was able to win a gold medal in the discus and shotput. In 2015 he won a third world title in the discus, and broke the American record as well.
What’s more remarkable is that the medals he won at the age of just 21 at the World Games in Turkey, were achieved despite competing with a broken leg! Another episode in Kevin’s journey that epitomizes his never say die attitude.
“About six weeks before the competition, I had fractured my shin. The doctor told me there’s no way you’re going to be able to compete. I disregarded that. I figured, it’s the World Championships, I’ve been training my whole life for this, I’m just going to tough it out. And that’s what I did.”
But that’s only half the story…
“In international track and field events, you get six attempts for the field. And on the first day I threw my first 5 out of bounds, none of my throws counted. I was super rusty, because I hadn’t been able to train for about six weeks, and my leg was hurting.
But on my sixth and final throw I was able to focus and I got off a really good throw. By the time that it landed, it had reached 141 feet, I broke the American record and won the gold medal.”
Doing it the hard way
Doing it the hard way is an unfortunate norm for Kevin, who’s never had it easy. He talks openly of his struggles growing up. He suffered terribly at the hands of bullies from pre-school through high school, but his self belief and determination kept him going.
“It had a really detrimental effect on my mental health. You’re just told all the time about your disability, and that is what makes you start to see yourself as a disabled person. And not necessarily as a person with a disability, which is a pretty large distinction.”
These early experiences shaped him as a person and Kevin does a good job of finding the positives in his difficult childhood.
“It’s a blessing in disguise. The biggest takeaway I have from that period is that when you have a disability people will doubt your skill, your ability to get the job done. I realized that because of my vision, people were going to doubt me, and I wanted to prove them wrong.
I really ramped up my work ethic and my goal setting because I wanted to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was the right person for the job, I was the best athlete, sighted or blind, out there, I wanted to be the best of the best.”
Aside from his work in sport Kevin also now reaches out to children with disabilities to help them overcome some of the challenges he faced. He tries to be the role model that he never had and talk about the tough issues that many children with a disability encounter.
“I’m very passionate about doing public speaking and talking to groups about this is because it is a problem out there. And it’s not something that a lot of people want to talk to talk about.”
Blind soccer mission
He’s going to need all this passion and ability to overcome the doubters once again in the next phase of his life as he sets out to build a blind soccer team capable of winning a major tournament in just 7 years time.
True to his nature Kevin tries to turn a negative into a positive.
“We’re in a unique position in the US where we’re essentially starting a sport from scratch, which is exciting, because we can take it whatever direction that we want.”
However he does concede it’s a big task.
“It’s also a little daunting, because, especially compared to the Brazil’s, Argentina’s and Spain’s of the world who are so far advanced compared to us, we have a lot of work to do.”
The task is even bigger than just creating a soccer team, they want to create a winning soccer team.
“We don’t want to just show up to LA 2028, and lose 10-0, we want to show up and be a competitive team, we want to be on the medal stand. So we certainly have our work cut out for us.”
The US soccer program started in 2018 when they held their first ever development camp. From there, 10 local teams were established. In December of 2019, they ran their first ever national team identification camp at the Olympic Paralympic Training Centre in San Diego, California. They had big plans for 2020 but the pandemic put pay to much of this.
Playing more blind soccer
One of the major problems over the last 12 months has been that they’ve not been able to start competing with other nations. Kevin knows that this will be a key part of developing not only the players but also the coaching staff.
“We need to understand the level of play internationally. It’s going to be a learning process. But the sooner we can do that, the sooner we can refine our team, and can get experience for our American coaches.”
But its not just the elite side of the sport Kevin and his team are trying to develop, its also grassroots blind soccer.
“We need athletes to have the ability to play at a local level, to continue to hone those skills and to have competition opportunities. This is very similar to like what we’ve done at USABA with our goalball programme, where we have regional tournaments across the US.”
To this end they have won grants from the US Soccer Federation to grow grassroot programs and regional centres across the US that are strategically placed for local and regional development.
Kevin says the biggest challenge of that monumental process, has just been getting people in the US to recognize that blind soccer even exists.
“Usually when you say the phrase ‘blind soccer’ the first question is, ‘how do blind people play soccer?’ We have to give them that understanding.”
This even extends to the sporting community and another challenge is mobilizing those already interested in sports.
“We need to get people excited about being on the national team here. Because if you’re a blind teenager right now, and you have Paralympic aspirations, you’re probably thinking goalball, swimming, track and field, Judo, you might not even be aware of blind soccer.”
With the level of awareness this low, Kevin will be testing his never say die attitude to it’s limits over the next seven years. We wish him the best of luck.
If you’d like to get involved with blind soccer in the US you can find out more on the USABA website.
New to blind soccer? Read our introduction to the sport of blind soccer
Goalfix supplies a range of top quality blind soccer equipment for players, teams and tournaments.
Listen to more of our interviews with adaptive sports players and coaches below: