Monday, September 20th, 2021

'Exceeded all of my dreams'

Celina's Mindy Cook recalls Paralympic experience

By Gary R. Rasberry

The United States Paralympic Women's Goalball team, from left, coach Jake Czecho. . .

Compiled by Gary R. Rasberry
For nearly two weeks, Mindy Cook represented the United States - and her hometown of Celina - with pride and honor.
The 2007 Celina graduate was a member of the United States' women's goalball team at the recently-concluded Paralympics in Tokyo. Although she played a total of 13 minutes in the tournament, Cook played a crucial part in helping the team reach the gold medal game against Turkey.
In the semifinal against Brazil, the teams were tied through regulation and two overtime periods, resulting in a penalty shot round. Cook, the lone rookie on an experienced national team, came in for the final round with Team U.S.A. leading the shots 5-4. Cook missed her throw, but made a save to secure the victory and send the Americans to the final.
Although Turkey picked up its second win of the tournament over the Americans in the gold medal match, the silver medal marked the sixth time the Americans have medaled since the first competition for women's goalball in 1984. The team were bronze medalists in 2016 and last won gold in 2008.
Due to her busy schedule returning to the United States, Cook agreed to answer some questions about her experience via email.
1. How does it feel to have earned a medal in your first-ever Paralympics?
I feel so much pride in earning a medal in my first Paralympics! The opportunity to represent the United States is such an honor and bringing a medal home to my country gives me an overwhelming feeling of joy. I also feel so much gratitude and love for my support system and for those who have helped me overcome obstacles leading up to this moment. With this support, I've been able to live out my dreams.
2. You made the save in penalty shots that clinched Team USA's spot in the gold medal match. What were your feelings as you went in to compete?
I felt nervous but I also felt confident and ready. In one of our last training sessions before Tokyo we actually practiced the same scenario. While the game was on the line, I felt prepared. I knew my teammates believed in me and were supporting me from the bench. This was my moment to support my team.
3. What was your feeling when you made the save to clinch?
After I made the block, the magnitude of the moment hit me and I was overcome with emotion. I did not realize I was clutching the goalball so tightly until the referee took the ball from my arms and jokingly told me I was unable to keep the ball! As my teammates picked me up and we began to celebrate, I was so happy for my team. We came back from a 0-2 deficit as a team, and ultimately we won as a team.
4. With the protocols put in due to COVID-19, what were you able to do during downtime from matches and practices?
The Paralympic Village included an Athletes' Village Plaza. Inside the Plaza was a hair salon, Samsung store, post office and a Paralympic souvenir store. Team USA also had an Athlete Recreational Center where athletes could watch the games on big TVs, play board games, or meet and hang out with other athletes. Our team also attended the US Men's goalball matches as our schedule allowed.
5. Were you able to attend the Opening and Closing Ceremonies? If so, what was your reaction to the pageantry?
Yes! Our team attended both ceremonies. Walking into the stadium with Team USA at Opening Ceremonies during the Parade of Nations gave me goosebumps and so much patriotic emotion. Closing Ceremonies was an elegant display of celebration. Both ceremonies were moving and it was inspiring to see athletes of all different countries and all abilities coming together to show the world our stories and how we are redefining social norms.
6. Since the general public were not allowed to attend matches, what was the atmosphere like in the arena?
With goalball, the audience must be quiet while the ball is in play so, for our team, the quiet arena was not unusual. However with the remarkable coverage of the Paralympic Games by NBC, we could feel the motivational cheers from our friends and family back home. The Japanese volunteers also went above and beyond, always making us feel special by clapping and cheering before and after matches. Our men's goalball team was also able to attend games as their schedule allowed.
7. How much stronger did the team bond grow during the competition?
Going into the competition, our team already held a strong bond. In the years preceding the games and especially during the COVID-19 pause, our team was intentional about growing our team chemistry off the court. That chemistry directly translated to a strong on-court bond. During the games, our team won and lost as a team. We found ourselves winning four games in a comeback fashion. Each win and loss is an intense emotional experience that brings us together. . Although we did not reach our ultimate goal, our bond could not be broken and we were so proud of our performance during the games.
8. How were family and friends in the United States able to support you during your time in Tokyo?
Toyota sponsored a friends and family viewing party and Paralympic experience in Colorado Springs during the games since foreign spectators were not allowed in Tokyo. My parents and a few family friends attended the event with exclusive opportunities to tour training facilities. They could even try Paralympic sports like goalball! Our high-performance management organization, United States Association of Blind Athletes, also sent cheer packs to our friends and family to use during the games. I am also grateful for NBC for their outstanding coverage and, locally, for the Daily Standard for their wonderful coverage as a way for my family and friends to follow and support our team.
9. What surprised you about your experience in Tokyo?

Before the games, I dreamed of the thrill, excitement, and joy of competing on the world's biggest stage. Now reflecting back on the games, my experience exceeded all of my dreams. The host nation of Japan provided outstanding hospitality and accommodations. Team USA supported us through every avenue from nutrition to Sport Psychology to recovery. Words cannot describe the pride I felt for my team and for the honor to represent my country during the Paralympic Games. The opportunity to show my passion for goalball with the world and to share that journey together with my friends and family meant everything to me.
10. With the experience you had in Tokyo, how much will that motivate you to keep working to be able to continue playing on the international level?
The experience of the Paralympic Games is extremely motivating. The legacy of United States goalball is only continuing to grow and the team has not fully reached its potential. Playing goalball is my passion and competing alongside my incredibly talented teammates is inspiring.
As I take a break from training, my future is unclear; but, I do know goalball will always be a part of my life in some form.
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Compiled by Gary R. Rasberry
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