March Fen Tiger Joseph Roper plots Paralympic goalball glory in Japan 2020
March athlete Joseph Roper is relishing the chance to help lead the goalball revolution as he bids to plot his own path towards Paralympic glory.
The 20-year-old is visually impaired but has far from let that derail his sporting ambitions, taking his place in Britain’s squad at European Championships so far in his career.
But elite competition is only just beginning for the Fen Tigers player, with next year’s Paralympic Games in Japan an understandable focal point on the court.
That’s not the only thing gaining Roper’s attentions however, keen to help other people benefit from the experiences that goalball and Paralympic sport have given him.
“This year, my aim is just to solidify myself as a main starting player. Next year, we’ve got the European Championships in Finland,” he said. “We want to keep developing – going to the Paralympics is the main goal for us.
“I’m in the talent squad and working my way through the British ranks, goalball is quite an unknown sport so the pathway is developing.
“It’s come on leaps and bounds even since I joined, we’ve been to Lithuania recently and we’re going to a major tournament soon, which is great development from the one-camp-a-year scenario in which I sorted.
“My main goal is to make the starting line–up of the GB squad, and I’d love to be able to win a Paralympic medal.
“Para–sport wasn’t talked about much but now it gets a lot more news coverage, it’s amazing how everyone is talking about and that people without disabilities can really get behind it and watch the events as well.”
Roper’s cause is also being helped by SportsAid and the Backing The Best programme, which offers critical financial help to talented young athletes who would otherwise face difficulties progressing through their sport’s system.
Backed by £5.5 million of National Lottery funding, Backing The Best presents annual awards of £5,000 per athlete to help with essential costs such as travel, accommodation, kit, nutrition and medical bills.
The Cambridgeshire athlete was one of dozens of SportsAid athletes who attended workshops at Nottingham Racecourse in April, offering media training, nutrition advice, performance lifestyle guidance and support for parents.
The youngsters from all over the country were joined by Winter Olympian Elise Christie, who sung the praises of the programme.
“It was a really great day in Nottingham. It’s amazing to be a part of something that gives young adults the chance to shine,” said the triple short track speed skating world champion.
“I think that’s what is important about SportsAid – they don’t just give money, they help you develop skills.
“If I could have gone back and learnt that stuff before what happened to me, then I’d have been so much better prepared.
“I’ve come to SportsAid events four times and I always learn something new each time.
“SportsAid is a special charity because there are a lot of people who will support successful athletes, but SportsAid search for talent who can’t make it on their own.”
• Backing The Best is helping talented young athletes facing the greatest financial pressure to pursue their sporting ambitions. The programme, managed by SportsAid for Sport England, is supported by National Lottery funding. Visit www.sportengland.org/our–work/talent/backing–the–best/ to find out more