AMERICAN FORK On a day that he couldn't lead his team to a come-from-behind victory in the U.S. goalball championships, Chris Dodds couldn't have been happier.
Down 4-3 at halftime to Northeast Florida, the Utah team quickly tied things up Saturday with 8:39 left in the game, but three seconds later, Florida took the lead back with a score.
From there, Utah was hit with a three-goal deluge that spanned five minutes of playing time. Utah's Marty Langworthy had a goal called off on a penalty, but scored another two minutes later. Utah relied on the skills and leadership of Dodds to bring it back down the stretch, but fell short, losing 7-5 to Northeast Florida.
Despite the loss, nothing mattered more than what happened after the final shot. Dodds was the only Utahn chosen to represent the United States in goalball for the upcoming Paralympic Games in Beijing. He was also given the tournament MVP award for leading his Utah team to a silver medal in the national tournament.
"It's been quite a road I've been down," Dodds said. "It's been exciting, but it's been a lot of hard work as well. Nothing's been easy, everybody is fighting to be on the national team and it is such a privilege to be one of six people to represent my country."
Dodds was not born with any vision problems and, in fact, excelled at many sports as a child. Baseball was his first love, and at the age of 12 he played in a Little League championship game. Late in the game with the score tied, a routine fly was hit to him in center field. The only problem was Dodds couldn't see it, even when it hit the ground nearby. Dodds was devastated and never played baseball again after being diagnosed with retinis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disease that hinders a person's night vision, then attacks the peripheral vision before causing the victim to eventually go blind.
Dodds continued to play sports, but this time it was soccer, since he could still see a larger ball. His vision continued to deteriorate, however, and he had to give the game up after he couldn't distinguish the opponents from his teammates and stole a ball from his own team.
Dodds was upset, knowing his vision had taken away all of the sports he had loved to play since his childhood. That all changed one day after he had been receiving services for blind students.
Through the Utah Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired, he was introduced to goalball. Dodds quickly fell in love with the sport, eventually leading the Utah high school boys team to national championships in 2000 and '01. His play was so outstanding, he was actually invited to play on the men's team as a high schooler.
The Bingham graduate made the U.S. men's team and competed in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, where he earned a bronze medal.
Dodds says his major goal was to make the USA team again and lead it to the top of the medal stand this year.
"I want to win gold in Beijing," Dodds said. "I have to work and train harder to stay on top."
There is no training specific to goalball, Dodds said.
"We hit the weight room, do a lot of cardio, basically everything any other athlete would do," Dodds said.
He said the Americans are at a major disadvantage since the team is located all over the country and only meets once a month. Other countries typically have their athletes all stationed in one locale, giving them more time to gel and train together.
"It's all self-motivated, because we only get together every month at the Olympic training center. We rely on our club teams to keep training at home. It's a bit of a disadvantage for us, because other teams have all their players in one local spot, and we're so spread out."
To Utah's finest goalballer, that doesn't matter. He's learned much from the success in Athens, and he's transferred that learning to life and has been teaching others.
"I've learned never to give up, because we had so many chances to lose every round, but we kept fighting and fighting to advance to each round," Dodds said. "You've been training for four years to this point, and you never know what is going to happen, so you keep trying your best to see where you'll end up."Hopefully for Dodds and the Americans, it ends up less like Saturday night and more like his dreams he's had for four years.