We catch up with Antonia Bunyan, GB goalball athlete ahead of the IBSA European A Championships to find out how she manages being a dual career athlete, role model and her preparation for the Euros.
“I’m really excited about the upcoming Euros and I can’t wait to get out there. We’re in a great position as a squad with a good opportunity to qualify for Paris 2024 so it’s a great feeling!” said Antonia.
“My training has tapered off now but in the run up I’ve been in the gym on strength and conditioning several times a week, doing three goalball sessions per week. As I work at RNC (Royal National College for the Blind, Hereford) I’ve had the bonus of extra one-to-one training with other students and Aaron Ford our Head Coach who also works at RNC”
“Mentally I’m in such a strong place too. I’m prone to injury and this is the first competition I’m entering without a new injury! I’m in a great mindset to focus on the game rather than working around an injury. Working with Dan our Sports Psychologist has really helped with this too.”
Antonia was 11 when she found out she had a condition making her partially sighted. “I found out about my VI (visual impairment) aged 11 and goalball was the first sport I tried. I was curious about the sport as it’s so unique and just loved it from the start.”
From there Antonia progressed in the sport playing locally for York St John, then RNC where she is currently based as a Trainee teacher. Antonia now plays for Queen Bees in the Goalball UK Super Leage as well as competing for Great Britain.
Antonia doesn’t want your sympathy though. As a woman in sport, especially para sport, Antonia recognises that she is a role model to younger girls. “As a squad we do everything we can to inspire and encourage younger women to be involved. We all have careers as well as playing goalball at the highest level. We want young people with visual impairments to know it doesn’t matter who you are, you can have a career and be sporty.”
The Queen Bees compete in the Goalball UK Super League
Antonia’s ambition is “to get to the Paralympics and not just get there but really compete on a big stage. It’s always been an aim of mine even before I played sport.”
Speaking about GB Women and the squad Antonia says “we are like a family; we call ourselves a family and act like one too. We bicker, laugh together, we’re joyous and everyone has supported each other in life and in goalball. It really is a special group and I feel so lucky to be part of the journey.”
GB Women hold the Union Jack at the IBSA World Games 2022
Like all the GB Women para-athletes, Antonia balances a full-time career with training and competing. Working at RNC, Antonia is a Trainee Teacher in the massage and complementary therapies department. She also teaches in sports including goalball.
Recently Antonia qualified as a TASS Lifestyle Practitioner. In this role Antonia helps athletes on the TASS programme with anything life-related such as issues with finance, family, friends or anything that is concerning them.
Speaking about her role at RNC, Antonia relishes seeing her students growing in confidence and the journey they go on as she understands their world experience well. “Having a visual impairment can make it feel like you have it worse than anyone else. With the massage and therapies that I teach, students learn that they have something to give to the world. We give massage in the NHS, to local veterans and other organisations locally. Recipients often tell me the quality is great since our students rely more on their sense of touch.”
Becoming a teacher has been a natural progression for Antonia. Her resilience in goalball has helped her with the grit needed sometimes in teaching. Antonia’s standout goalball moment was her first real chance at leadership
“The 2019 Para Youth Championships in Australia were the first opportunity I had to be the most experienced person in the group. I was able to be a leader and not a youth and really came into my own. It prepared me to become the goalball player I am today. Discovering this characteristic about myself has helped me in the senior squad and in life.”
The IBSA European Championships, held in Montenegro from 6-17 December at the final chance at an instant qualification to the Paris 2024 Paralympics. The competition sees GB Women and GB Men face tough goalball teams from across Europe all battling it out for the ticket to Paris.
GB’s games start on Sunday 10th December with the group stage. All games will be livestreamed on IBSA’s YouTube channel.
Goalball UK would like to thank Perfection Travel and Events Ltd, Direct Business Group, SOL PV, PE Office and Northern Accountants for their support as shirt sponsors for the squads.
Antonia Bunyan at IBSA World Championships 2022