Joe

Joe is wearing his GB training kit, there is the Goalball UK logo on the front of this t-shirt and he has eye shades on the top of his head as he smiles at the camera. He is kneeling in front of a goal with his hand on a ball in front of him and there is a big net in the background.

Joe Roper competed in his first ever goalball tournament in January 2016, fast forward two years to January 2018 and he’s made his debut for the GB men’s goalball team in Budapest! Joe, from Cambridgeshire, is the seventh RNC student to make it into the national squad for goalball.

 

Joe is with family members Dom, Laura, Emma and Dan (Fen Tigers goalball team) at a goalball tournament. They are wearing their orange and black stripy uniforms with medals around their necks. Joe is standing in the centre holding a plaque.

Left to right; Dom, Laura, Joe, Emma, Dan

Joe’s older brother Dan, 27, was a previous student at the College and Joe says “Dan went to RNC, I saw how much it changed his life for the better and it inspired me; it gave me the push I needed to get to RNC and see what they could do for me.” When Dan left RNC he moved back to his home area of Fenland, Cambridgeshire, with his girlfriend Laura (Perry) and the pair set up their own goalball club; Fen Tigers. Joe recalls “The first time I started playing goalball was at a training session with Dan and Laura – they’re both GB so it was pretty intense. Now my other brother Dom and step mum Emma play so it’s a real family affair!”

 

Joe left the Fen Tigers in September 2016 when he moved to Hereford to study at RNC, he explains “Every week I get about 10 hours of goalball on my timetable, the Sports Academy is lesson-based so taught completely differently to club level and means that I am learning so much more in a short space of time. It’s also really widened my horizon, meeting other students with VI who want to progress in sport; we face the same challenges and find ways around them.”

Sport and Recreation student Joe states “Coming to RNC has been absolutely brilliant – it offered the courses I wanted and it’s delivered in the accessible way that I need.” Joe is grateful to be part of the TASS programme (Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme) funded by Sport England which helps athletes succeed whilst balancing education and sport. This means that Joe receives additional one to one  sessions in strength and conditioning, physio, nutrition and extra lessons specific to goalball, he says “Being part of the TASS programme has definitely had a big impact for my GB selection by increasing my strength and knowledge.”

 

What makes Joe’s progression into the GB men’s squad in little over two years even more incredible is the fact that he had never even played competitive sport before goalball. Joe recalls “I was this scrawny weird kid – look at me, I’m the one that always got picked last in PE and that affects you mentally when you’re young. You sort of think, if my peers don’t think I’m good enough to play with them then I must not be good. In the playground people told me not to play sport so I kind of just became the typical geek and got good at computers and did a lot of gaming. I can’t explain how much my confidence has been boosted since joining RNC.”

Aaron Ford, Head of the RNC Sports Academy and also Lead Coach for the women’s GB team, says “Joe is one of the most positive students in the Sports Academy and his enthusiasm really does rub off on the rest of the students; he is always willing to help them improve their game. Joe is so talented and has worked unbelievably hard over the last two years; he takes on board everything which is asked of him, he turns up to every training session and gives up his weekends for goalball. With his clear talent, positive attitude and strong work ethic I am not surprised by his call up to the men’s GB squad.”

 

Joe names the College as the main reason that he has escalated so quickly up the GB talent pathway and says “I wouldn’t be in the GB squad without the College, RNC has quite literally changed my life – I’m more confident, independent and know how to use my initiative now. Being here has given me so many opportunities and for that I am very thankful.”

 

Joe and Dan are standing beside each other; they are both wearing RNC sweatshirts and holding winner’s medals in front of them. The pair are smiling as Joe has his arm around Dan.

Joe (left) and Dan (right) representing Team RNC

Joe travels to Budapest on Thursday, 25 January, ready to make his debut on the Friday. “I’m nervous, it’s intimidating because the GB squad are so good but it’s also really exciting because I’m going to be playing alongside the best goalball players in the country. Getting the call up was a real sense of achievement. I feel like all my time spent training and all the hard work and effort I’ve put in is paying off and I’ve earned my right to play.”

In Budapest Joe will be playing alongside his brother,Dan, and says “I’m so proud to have joined Dan in the GB squad. I look at my big bro and he’s been one of my role models growing up; not just in sport, but in life and if I can achieve half of what he has then that would be brilliant. Although there is that competitive side of me that wants to be better than him one day!”

 

Whilst short in stature, Joe is 5’4½” tall, he explains “I know I’m way too short for an ideal goalball player but my speed makes up for my height and I can get to different areas quicker. I’ve been taught to train differently to someone who relies on their height – I work on being speedy and agile.”

Joe’s positive attitude is infectious “You’ve got to try hard in life, not just in sport. If you look at others, comparing yourself to them and thinking about what you don’t have then you’ll never get anywhere. I can’t sit there thinking that guy’s taller than me or stronger than me, complaining isn’t helpful. You’ve got to appreciate what you do have, and what your strengths are.”