She lost her vision in her teens. Instead of giving up on sport, she went on to become a national athlete

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This article was originally published on Feb. 18, 2023.

This is what it is like to play goalball.

You step up to the field — an indoor pitch 18 by nine metres wide, about two-thirds the size of a basketball court. Goals set up on each side run the width of the playing area, both guarded by three defenders.

You put on your equipment: knee guards, elbow guards. You do warm-ups with the ball, testing its size (roughly that of a basketball) and its weight (1.5kg). You toss it from hand to hand, around your waist, double-checking your grip.

Finally, you take your place beside your teammates. You get down onto the ground, your palms pressed onto the floor and your dominant leg stretched out beside you.

You pull your eye-shades over your face. The world darkens to black.

“Quiet,” the referee barks, and the court falls silent as the sound of her starting whistle rolls across the playing field.

From baskets to goals

The first time I speak to Joan Hung, it’s over Zoom. Her screen is blank. Her camera switched off.

Hung’s was the name I was given when I requested to speak with a local goalball player in hopes of finding out more about the sport. The 27-year-old is one of the team’s most experienced players, a pioneer in her own right, having been instrumental in forming the national goalball chapter.

It’s hard to reconcile that with the woman speaking to me over Zoom. Hung’s manner is amiable; her speech filled with a generous smattering of Singlish — lahs and lors of the fashion that immediately put you at ease.

She starts by telling me about herself. She works at Athlete Development, an organisation that provides coaching and programmes for athletes, as a facilitator. She has a sister who also used to compete, but quit the team to start a family. She’s not a people person by nature, but has gotten better with age and experience.

Her vision loss was inherited — both her parents are fully blind. Like her dad, she has aniridia, which essentially means she has no iris. “Like a spoilt camera lens,” she explains, with the air of having done so a hundred times before.

The way she started playing goalball wasn’t parti...

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