Without knowing much about John Kusku’s private life, he already stands out as pretty extraordinary.
You see, Kusku is a visually impaired math and science teacher at Oakland Schools Technical Campus – Southwest.
“I have a degenerative hereditary eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). It causes me to have tunnel vision and night blindness,” Kusku explained. I was diagnosed with a vision problem at around 6 months old, and with RP at 4 years old. When I was younger, my vision was better and I was able to keep up with my peers in most things without any accommodations. In middle school that changed. My peers got better and faster and my vision got worse.”
And this is where his story gets even more remarkable. To accommodate his rapidly changing vision, in 1994, Kusku joined a goalball team. Goalball is an indoor sport usually played on a volleyball court where participants compete in teams of three and attempt to throw a ball with bells in it into the opponent’s goal. The game focuses on ear-hand coordination.
“Goalball was the perfect outlet for me physically and socially,” said Kusku. “I found a game to play competitively and I found a social group to connect with. I met many people who were not afraid to acknowledge their blindness, use a cane, ask for help and do the things they wanted to do even if it made other people uncomfortable. I cannot express how much self-confidence I gained from experiencing the world of goalball.”
Kusku took his new love to a whole new level, fully dedicating himself to the sport. His hard work paid off.
Just a couple weeks ago, he headed to Sao Paulo, Brazil to compete in the 2017 American Goalball Championships at the PanAmerican Games on the USA Goalball team. The team proudly brought home a silver medal, finishing second out of eight teams.
“Overall the trip was a huge success,” Kusku said. “On the men’s team we were expected to defeat all teams except Brazil and play a close gold medal match against Brazil. We did just that. On our women’s side, the team consisted of some very new players. The team hoped to medal and play close games against Canada and Brazil and they did just that.”
Kusku said he fully intends on continuing playing goalball, with plans to compete with Team USA in British Columbia, Canada and Sweden. The next major competition is in early June – the 2018 World Championships in Sweden. There will also be the 2019 Pan American games in Lima, Peru and the Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan.
Due to my vision impairment any game I play with people who have normal vision puts me at an immediate disadvantage. No matter how hard I practice I cannot be ‘great’ when I am in that situation,” described Kusku. “On the other hand, in goalball, since all players wear blacked out ski goggles, vision is not a factor. The more I play goalball and the more work I put into training, the better I can be. I have no physical limit to the greatness I can achieve.”
Sarah Davis is the communications specialist with Oakland Schools Communications Services Department. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.