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An Imposing Force At 6-foot-7, Goalball’s Calahan Young Is Ready To Make Some Noise At The World Games

by Sean Shapiro

Calahan Young in action during the men's goalball semifinal against Team China at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 29, 2021 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Getty Images)

Calahan Young is back, and it’s thanks to a fully healthy back.

Young was one of the stars for the U.S. men’s goalball team at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. In the quarterfinal round, trailing 4-1 against Ukraine, the Pittsburgh native scored four unanswered goals, including the overtime winner, to send Team USA to the medal round.

Though the Americans just missed out on a medal, losing in both the semifinal and bronze-medal match, the experience left Young motivated to win his first Paralympic medal in Paris in 2024. And that motivation only grew after he was sidelined for the 2022 world championships while recovering from back surgery.

“I am super eager to get back on the court and compete on a major scale,” Young, 28, said. “Between finishing fourth in Tokyo and the surgery, I’m doing everything I can to make sure we are in a spot to be the best we can for Paris next summer.”

One of the key steps is actually qualifying, which the American teams are hoping to do this month while competing at the 2023 IBSA World Games, which are being held through Aug. 27 in Birmingham, England.

In goalball, a sport for athletes with visual impairments, teams of three line up in front of goals that span the width of the court, with the object being to score by throwing the ball past your opponents. A rattle inside the ball helps the players track its movement as it rolls and bounces across the court at upwards of 40 mph.

A Paralympic sport since 1976, goalball will see its fields decrease to eight teams in Paris after 10 competed in Rio and Tokyo. Only one team will qualify for the Paralympics out of the World Games, which is a change from past Paralympic cycles. Young said all of that only adds to the pressure, and excitement, of his first major tournament back with Team USA.

“I was able to play in the Berlin Cup back in June, and that first time back on the court, against another country, it was like, ‘Yes, this is what I was missing,’” Young said prior to the World Games. “And now you add the pressure of being able to qualify for Paris to this tournament (in England) and it makes me more excited.” 

Young is an imposing force on the court. At 6-foot-7, he’s one of the tallest players in the world, if not the tallest. His stature is a weapon defensively, while his wingspan allows him to deliver shots from a variety of angles that most players can’t. But Keith Young, the U.S. men’s coach, said it’s Callahan Young’s game awareness that makes him such an asset for Team USA.

“He’s so good at changing things up for the other team,” Keith Young said. “Goalball can be a sport where repetition can be a bad thing, you get caught in it, and he’s so good at changing the game.

“He’s good at quick-shotting an opposing team, not letting them get set; he delivers a ball that’s hard to judge defensively.”

Calahan Young reacts during a men's goalball match against Team Brazil at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on August 26, 2021 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Getty Images)

Calahan Young, who is not related to Keith, discovered goalball when he was growing up and his vision started to decrease.

“When I was younger, I was able to play most sports — baseball, basketball — but as my vision got worse I started to attend blind summer camps,” said Young, who has retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that causes substantial peripheral vision loss, night blindness and color blindness. “And they had a goalball team, and it was awesome. I started playing there, joined a team. From there it really stuck.”

His play eventually caught the attention of the national team, and before long Young had earned a call-up. He competed at the world championships for the first time in 2018, helping the Americans finish fifth.

Young said he rode the bench early on but really focused on his physical strength during the cycle leading up to Tokyo 2020. He added 20 pounds of muscle, worked on his endurance and became a better athlete who could, in his words, “be trusted to play an entire match.”

This summer’s Berlin Cup, where the Americans won gold, was another prove-it opportunity for Young as he was coming back from injury and showing he could still be the same athlete he was before surgery. On all counts, he proved it: The back held up, his defensive game was strong and offensively he was a force.

So, going into the World Games, Young was once again one of the marquee names for the Americans, who have high hopes. Ranked No. 4 in the world, the U.S. is expected to be a top contender for Paralympic spot along with Lithuania (No. 2) and Turkey (No. 5).

“I feel like we really do have the potential of coming in first and qualifying for Paris,” Young said. “It’s a sport that, in my opinion, requires you to adapt and keep pushing the envelope. And I feel like as a team, we are pushing the envelope in terms of our athleticism and how we think the game. That’s our biggest strength going right now.”

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