Decorated Goalball Player First Paralympian to Enter Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame

Parent Category: News

By Brian Gomez, Colorado Springs Gazette

Jennifer Armbruster

Jen Armbruster was an athletic point guard, capable of slicing through a defense. She also was an accurate shooting guard, with a soft touch from practically anywhere on the court. As a teenager, she started losing her vision. By the time she celebrated her 18th birthday, she was totally blind. Her aspirations of a college basketball scholarship were shattered.

“My dream changed,” she said. “It didn’t go away. It just had to be altered a little bit.” The Falcon High School graduate transferred her skills to goalball, a sport that resembles team handball, and after claiming a Paralympic medal of each color over a career that has lasted 21 years, she’ll be enshrined Tuesday in the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame.
Armbruster, 36, becomes the first Paralympian to get inducted into the 12-class Hall, and joining her at World Arena will be Dee Dowis, a former Air Force quarterback; the late Sam Hairston, a Colorado Springs Sky Sox Hall of Famer; Burdette Haldorson, a former University of Colorado basketball player; Dan McKiernan, the coach of the Doherty boys basketball team; Dave Ogrean, the executive director of USA Hockey; the 1978 Wasson boys basketball team that won the 3A title; and the 1961 U.S. figure skating team, with 18 members and Broadmoor Skating Club coach Edi Scholdan who died in a plane crash. The Gazette is a sponsor of the Hall, which is run by the Colorado Springs Sports Corp.
A slow but steady degeneration of the optic nerve caused Armbruster’s initial vision loss, in 1989, and the rest of her sight vanished in a four-hour period in 1992, two days before she departed for her first of five Paralympics, in Barcelona, Spain. She picked up goalball in 1990, and she was so good, her parents told her, “You could take this to another level.”
It wasn’t long until Armbruster turned into a force for the fast-rising Americans, blending the balance, quickness and parallel movement she developed from basketball; the diving and defensive traits she acquired as a soccer goalkeeper; the throwing motion she learned as a softball pitcher; and the leaping ability she gleaned as a volleyball attacker.
Her father, Ken, the national team coach since 1996, seasoned her with a slew of goalball drills, with practices that resembled preseason basketball workouts. The talent around her also got increasingly better, and the bronze Armbruster won in 1996 in Atlanta morphed into a silver in 2004 in Athens, Greece, and into a gold in 2008 in Beijing, where she was her team’s captain as well as the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony.
“It wasn’t just get up and show up and you’re good enough,” Armbruster said of the new U.S. mindset. “You’re going to be on a training program. You’re going to be accountable for it.” Armbruster admitted that “you couldn’t have scripted anything more magical than what it was” in Beijing, as the Americans avoided elimination in pool play, then outlasted China in the gold-medal match. “I can’t imagine anything topping it,” Armbruster added.
The U.S. is qualified for the 2012 Paralympics in London, which probably will be the last for Armbruster, a 1997 Northern Colorado graduate who works in campus recreation for Portland State. She has undergone two surgeries on her right shoulder, with a third on the horizon, and she’ll take a “fairly conservative” style at the Parapan American Games next month in Guadalajara, Mexico, and at the Paralympic test event in December in London.
Armbruster chuckles when she thinks about her childhood mentality, once telling herself, “I’m invincible.” She grows sentimental while pondering what she has done in a life that has been lived mostly without sight. “Giving up wasn’t going to be an option,” she said.
When: Tuesday, 6-9 p.m.
Where: World Arena
Inductees: Jen Armbruster, Dee Dowis, the late Sam Hairston, Burdette Haldorson, Dan McKiernan, Dave Ogrean, the 1978 Wasson boys’ basketball team and the 1961 U.S. figure skating team, including the late Broadmoor Skating Club coach Edi Scholdan
Tickets: None are available, with the maximum of 665 seats having been distributed
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