VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - As he shows off pins from around the globe, James Wallace shares a world of gratitude.
"I am the luckiest guy on earth," Wallace said.
The Norfolk native and longtime baseball coach who now lives in Virginia Beach is headed to Tokyo next month for the Paralympic Games. He's the assistant coach for the United States men's goalball squad - a team sport for the blind and visually impaired.
"A lot of the things they do in the game are related to baseball: the hip movement, the arms – some of the motions," Wallace explained. "They’re athletes, they’re people – so you coach them like people."
Goalball dates back to World War II, but Wallace only became involved four years ago through his grandson, Christian, who is visually impaired.
"I sat on the sidelines in 2017 and watched the game," Wallace recalled.
But what is the game? We asked Coach Wallace to explain Goalball.
"It’s the toughest sport you’ve never heard of," he said. "It’s the opposite of dodgeball. Instead of not getting hit, you’re trying to hit - to block. "They're throwing a three-pound ball at each other and trying to get past their goal."
The ball is the size of a basketball, but it's hollow. The reason? Because two bells inside help the blind athletes know where the ball is going.
The closest goalball team to Hampton Roads, VA/Northeast North Carolina is in Washington, DC - hours away. Wallace has a message for any visually impaired athletes in our area.
"Reach out to me, reach out to the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA)," Wallace said. "These guys are just athletes. They can play. The only thing is they can’t see. That’s it. I’d put them up any athlete in any sport right now."
And next month, the self-proclaimed luckiest guy on earth will take his athletes to the greatest sporting stage on earth. And Team USA is hoping the two bells inside a ball are not the only medals coming back to the United States.
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games goalball competition begins August 25.