Burk's goalball aim falls close to home

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 2:12 PM ET

A week ago, Whitney Burk of London was in Spartanburg, S.C., helping the Canadian women's goalball team win the world championship.

The 20-year-old Fanshawe College student hopes to be part of the Canadian squad that defends its Paralympics title in Beijing in 2008.

But to finish on top today in the Ontario Paralympic Championships goalball tournament at Thames Hall, she faces the monumental task of toppling her roommates -- boyfriend Jesse Bogart and twin brother Tyler Burk. Household bragging rights are on the line.

"I think they're going to win it -- they have more boys, who throw harder, on their team and it's not normally a co-ed sport," Whitney Burk said. "But you never know. We have a good team with Paralympian champion Annette Lisabeth (of Langton), Matt Robinson from Oshawa and our goal in this tournament is to help Stephanni Leach, who is a newer player, make the provincial team."

There are plenty of intriguing Paralympic events, but few harder to describe than goalball, a team sport designed for blind athletes.

All players wear blacked-out goggles, regardless of their vision level.

The game consists of trying to throw (with a bowling motion) a ball with bells in it into the opponent's nine-metre goal on a volleyball-sized court marked by string and tape. Competitors have to pay attention to the sound of the bells and use quickness to intercept the ball's path.

"It's unlike any other sport I can think of," Whitney Burk said. "I first played it at the W. Ross Macdonald school (for the blind) in Brantford because they made us try all the sports there. You have to be physically fit to play -- there's a lot of going up and down. Every game is two 10-minute halves and we wear padding." (Boys have goalball gear, but girls still wear women's hockey pants until new technology becomes available.)

Generally, the harder-throwing men produce higher-scoring games and Burk's training with her boyfriend and brother has paid dividends when she switches to the women's game.

"I still don't throw very hard, but it has helped my defence playing against them," she said. "I would say I'm more of a defensive player than an offensive one. If you get a high-skilled women's game at the provincial level, the scores are usually 3-2 or 2-1."

Though opponents today, Burk's boyfriend and brother are her biggest fans when she's competing for Canada or representing Ontario.

"It helps to have them, although they're more helpful for each other," said Burk, originally from Marathon in northern Ontario.

"I think the best part of goalball is all the travel and playing against the best players in the world."

Today, though, she will just be battling to be the best in her house.

World record

Santiago Quinto, a wheelchair racer from Alicante, Spain, who is using the Canadian Paralympic track and field championships as a worlds qualifier, blazed around the TD Waterhouse track in a world record time of 12 minutes, 37.07 seconds to win the 5,000-metre crown in the T52 division Thursday night.

TODAY'S EVENTS

Ontario Paralympic championships and Canadian Paralympic track and field championships

- Athletics (national and provincial), 8 a.m.-4 p.m., TD Waterhouse Stadium

- Boccia, 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m, UCC Gym

- Powerlifting, 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Thompson curling rink

- Wheelchair Rugby, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Alumni Hall

- Goalball, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Thames Hall

- Wheelchair Tennis, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., UWO Tennis Centre


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