My name is Whitney Bogart. I was born April 21, 1986 in Thunder Bay, Ontario, a couple minutes after my twin brother Tyler. We were the third and fourth children of Ken and Caroline Burk. All together I have four siblings: two older brothers, Randy and Chris, Tyler, and a younger sister Kayla. We grew up in northwest Ontario in a town called Marathon, where dad worked for nearly three decades at Barrick Gold’s Hemlo operation—which produced all of the gold for the medals at the TORONTO 2015 Games.
What makes our family a little different is that all five children have albinism. Albinism is an inherited genetic condition that reduces the amount of pigment formed in the skin, hair and/or eyes. My parents are both albinism carriers but they don’t have albinism themselves. Each of us children had a 25 percent chance of inheriting the condition, and we all got it! There are different forms of albinism, but I will just talk about ours. The albinism that we have affects our eyes, hair and skin. We do not have pigment, leaving us with pale skin, white hair and blue eyes. Along with the lack of pigment, the condition causes visual problems; each of us is considered legally blind.
Currently, I am in South Korea at the world championships, and then it’s on to Toronto for the Parapan Am Games in August. Both of these tournaments are qualifiers for the Rio Paralympics, which is our ultimate goal.
Being visually impaired has brought challenges in my life, but it has also brought opportunities. In high school, I attended a residential school for the blind in Brantford, Ontario, which is about 700 miles south of Marathon. I flew back and forth from school every weekend. While I was at school, I was introduced to the sport of goalball. Goalball is a Paralympic team sport for blind and visually impaired athletes. The sport is a little hard to explain, so I will delve into that later and you should also check out the video link, which shows the Canadian women’s national team gearing up for the 2012 London Paralympics. It gives a good overview of the sport.
I made the Ontario goalball team in 2002 and attended my first Canadian championships that year in Prince Edward Island. In 2008, we won the Canadian championships, and we’ve defended out title every year since. In 2005, I was selected to the Canadian national team, meaning I was one of the top six female goalball players in the country. I have made the team every year since, except for 2008. Not being selected that year meant I couldn’t participate in the Beijing Paralympics. That was a tough pill to swallow, but it only made me work harder. I made the team again in 2009 and was a starter by 2010. In 2011, we won the world championships in Turkey, which automatically qualified us for the London Paralympics. We placed fifth in London, falling in the quarterfinal game in sudden death. I still lose sleep at night over that game.
Currently, I am in South Korea at the world championships, and then it’s on to Toronto for the Parapan Am Games in August. Both of these tournaments are qualifiers for the Rio Paralympics, which is our ultimate goal. So that is the compressed story of my goalball career!
In future blogs, I will let you know how things went in South Korea, talk about what it’s like to play the only blind team sport in the Paralympics and explain how I am balancing my passion for goalball with motherhood. That’s right. I have a daughter named Kennedy who is turning two later this month. She doesn’t have albinism, but I hope to teach her how to play goalball one day and that she loves it as much as I do.
Goalball was devised in 1946 to help rehabilitate visually impaired veterans returning from World War Two. Goalball became a Paralympic sport in 1976. The object of the game is to roll the ball into the opposite goal while opposing players try to block the ball with their bodies. The sport is exclusively for athletes with visual impairments; to ensure a level playing field, all players must cover their eyes with black eyeshades. Bells inside the balls help orient the players, indicating the direction of the on-coming ball, which can travel up to 80 kilometers per hour. Therefore, while play is in progress, complete silence is required.
Watch the Canadian women’s goalball team prepare for the London 2012 Paralympics:
Barrick is the exclusive supplier of gold, silver and copper for the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.
The gold for the athlete medals is from Barrick's Hemlo mine in Canada; the silver comes from the Pueblo Viejo mine in the Dominican Republic; and the copper used to make the bronze medals comes from the Zaldívar mine in Chile.
The Pan Am Games will run from July 10–26 followed by the Parapan Am Games August 7–15.
Watch the amazing stories of teamwork, perseverance and excellence behind the medals: