Making her first Paralympic appearance in the Rio Games, Marybai Huking will also be the youngest member of the United States goalball team at just 19 years old. Marybai was adopted from China when she was two years old, moved to the United States and grew up in Missoula, MT. Being born with albinism and classified as legally blind, Marybai has found refuge in athletic competition and through sports she has learned how to be confident and embrace her disability.
A three-year member of the U.S. National Goalball Team, Marybai started playing goalball in 2010 and is always on the go. We caught up with her as she prepares for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games to discuss being a 2016 recipient of the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Travel & Training Fund and all the excitement that comes with being a first-time Paralympian.
Question: What does it mean to you to represent your country at the Paralympics this year?
Answer: After years of preparation, the opportunity to compete at the Paralympic Games alongside my USA teammates means the world to me. I can’t begin to express the pride I feel in my team, my country, and my sport.
Q: How did you get into the sport of goalball?
A: After moving to Ogden, Utah seven years ago, I was introduced to goalball by my orientation and mobility instructor, Shannon. Coming from a background in competitive figure skating, I initially distained the sport and the fact that I was forced to throw myself on a dirty gym floor. It wasn’t until I competed in my first tournament that I fell in love with the team camaraderie and sensory challenge that goalball provided. It was from that point that I made it my goal to make the Utah youth team and, eventually, the USA Women’s Team.
Q: What life lessons has playing sports taught you?
A: Sports have helped me embrace my disability and realize the countless opportunities available to those willing to consistently work hard.
Q: This will be your first Paralympic appearance, what are you most looking forward to?
A: I am truly grateful for my teammates and know that Rio will be a chance to grow as individuals and as a team. As Rio approaches, I am excited to create new memories and bonds while competing alongside my USA teammates.
Q: Why did you decide to apply for a Travel & Training Fund grant from the Women’s Sports Foundation? And, how are you planning on using the grant?
A: I applied for a Travel & Training Grant due to the widespread training opportunities I have for goalball. In order to reach my full potential as an athlete, I knew it would require a considerable amount of traveling. This summer I am using the grant I received to cover the travel expenses of training with other members of the USA Women’s Team and will use the remaining funds to cover the cost of traveling to tournaments during the 2017 goalball season.
Q: As a 2016 recipient of the Fund, what does this grant mean to you and how will it help you accomplish your athletic dreams?
A: The Travel & Training Fund has helped not only in the continuation of my training for Rio, but also in creating the possibility to train for Tokyo in 2020. Rio has been a dream of mine since I first found out goalball was a Paralympic sport and I can’t express how truly grateful I am to the Women’s Sports Foundation for helping to make that dream a reality.
Q: What has been your greatest challenge in reaching the elite level?
A: My mental game was one of the most challenging obstacles in reaching my Paralympic goals. In learning to trust others and trust myself, I was able to truly enjoy the journey to being named to the Paralympic team.
Q: If there was one piece of advice you could give to a young girl who dreams of going to the Paralympics one day, what would it be?
A: No matter what you choose to dedicate your time to, make sure it is something you are passionate about. Not every training session will be fun, not every performance will be one to be proud of, but if you have passion and love for your sport, I promise the time spent will be well worth it.
Follow Marybai’s Paralympic journey starting September 7 through 18!