LIMA– Team USA Goalball’s Amanda Dennis is a sweetheart… off the court. She’s a 25-year-old Peachtree, Georgia native, a graduate of the University of Georgia, and is now pursuing a Master’s degree in Business Administration. Her hobbies include being a huge Harry Potter fan; she had no problem saying openly that she would be in both Ravensclaw and Slytherin houses. She loves macaroni and cheese and eating dessert. In a nutshell, she’s your All-American girl.
So you’d think.
However, when you get her on the court, to the opposition she’s, “Amanda Dennis the Menace”. She’s fierce, she’s in control, she’s ready to take names, literally she plays the game like she’s outta sight, because she is. Dennis was born with eye conditions called, Aniridia and Nystagmus, these conditions took away approximately 50% of her vision.
Her hometown, Peachtree, is a quiet suburb of Atlanta. It has no public transportation, where the locals use golf carts… yes, you heard right… only golf carts to get people to and from their locations of choice.
Dennis’ grandmother Geri Phillipe, saw that her 7-year-old granddaughter was inactive and was not partaking in team sports. There was only one thing for her to do – get people to hurl balls wildly at your granddaughter while she dives to save them from a long, empty net. That’s right, she signed Amanda up for goalball, the first team sport that Dennis actually took to.
“I went to a sport education camp in Atlanta, and they had different Paralympians from Team USA to teach us how to play goalball. Though I wasn’t wanting to play sports, I went to the sports camp. They kind of shared their passion with me and showed me that goalball is really cool. It’s a sport for everybody, whether you are visually impaired or not it’s very inclusive,” said Dennis.
Growing up, her grandmother taught her so much and was the person who she looked up to the most. After all, it was her grandmother, who after being diagnosed with terminal stage four cancer, was given only two to three years to live by doctors. She lived everyday like it was her last… for the next 11 years.
“She was one of the people who encouraged me to be in the Paralympics and she would always motivate me to do better.”
That resilient quality of her grandmother certainly rubbed off on Amanda.
“My ultimate goal for athletics is to rise up. On the London team, I was the center. The old way we used to play I never got to throw and I never got to score and I kinda felt like a punching bag, where I would just block the ball and pass it to someone else. I felt like a big hole on the team and then after we were eliminated in London I thought, ‘I want to be that person!’ And I wanted to score in Rio… and I did! It was three goals, but it was a big three goals because I was still relatively young. And then in Tokyo I want a gold medal. That has been a goal for me. That’s been the goal since I was on the team.”
Rather than turn blindness and the death of her grandmother into a negative, Amanda Dennis pushed forward. So much so, that in her grandmother’s honor she won a bronze medal with Team USA Goalball in Rio 2016 at the Paralympics.
“She wanted to go to the Paralympics in Rio, because she was supporting me and Team USA as well, but she passed away in February of that year. For me February was really special and I wanted to do it for her”, Dennis recalls.
Amanda carries her bronze medal from Rio 2016 with her, though right now, it’s currently in Indiana, where Dennis trains with Team USA at their facility that she also resides. She lives and breathes the sport like she has a sixth sense about it. She actually does feel it when she plays, in fact she can sense teammates around her.
“So when you play goalball there are a lot of things that go through your mind that you don’t have to think about anymore because you are flowing into it. A lot of them are spatial awareness things like knowing where you are without having to feel. If you are a thrower, it’s called, ‘moving in space’.” she continued, “A lot of it you can actually feel [your teammates] inside of myself, so when you are moving around you actually feel them.”
The 18 years of experience that she holds at the center position will come in handy in Lima, as she is yearning for a gold medal, to bring back home and put with the bronze, and to also build off their recent experiences. As for being ranked #1 leading into the Parapan American Games and representing the U.S. nation, Amanda Dennis is here for you:
“It’s kind of one of those things that when you put on the red, white and blue for the first time you are instantly an addict. It’s a great feeling where you love wearing the stars and stripes of the United States of America and everything that we behold.”
To the rest of the world, welcome to Lima 2019, the road to gold runs through Amanda Dennis… And this all-american girl would have it no other way.