U.S. Paralympic Gladiator Sean Boyle
Dec 16, 2016
One of the most rewarding aspects of building Storelli is that we get to work with some of the world’s most exceptional athletes.
One such athlete is Sean Boyle, the goalkeeper for the U.S. Paralympic National Soccer Team. Less than a year after suffering brain trauma, Sean represented the United States at the recent Paralympic Games in Rio. His journey is truly a remarkable one - It’s a story of overcoming fear, of perseverance, teamwork, camaraderie and boundless positivity. Sean has been an avid soccer player as long as he can pretty much remember.
In college he came out for San Jose State as 2nd goalkeeper and was at the top of his game. Suddenly things started to change. He began suffering strange symptoms starting with numbness in the fingers, then it spread, eventually affecting the whole left side of his body. Soon he could hardly move, let alone pick up a ball. Initially the doctors couldn't figure out the cause, even misdiagnosing him with a brain tumor that was potentially cancerous at one point, until they finally discovered he had suffered a VCM. Sean underwent surgery just over a year ago and got back onto his feet after a few months of intense recovery which resulted in him regaining most of his movement.
His recovery, however, was far from over and for Sean the toughest challenge of getting back between the sticks still lay ahead of him. To this day, physically the key challenge for Sean is that he becomes easily fatigued, to the point where he loses coordination and even his vision and can no longer feel textures with his hands, only pressure.
In February 2016, just months after his surgery, the USA Paralympic team reached out to him. They had heard about his prowess on the pitch and gave him the prospect of representing the U.S. at the Paralympic Games in Rio in September if he could get fit enough. Needless to say, Sean made it and represented his country at the Rio games. He doesn’t see his condition as a disability, merely another element to overcome.
We asked Sean a series of questions to learn more about him and his teammates' courageous story in preparation for Rio. You’ll recognize Sean by the Storelli Head Guard he wears on his head at all times.
First, check out this team video shot by director John Merizalde and our friends at Whitelist.TV
What makes Paralympic Soccer so unique and challenging?
Disability adds an extra layer of everything to the game. There are player technical adaptations, rule adaptations and tactical ideas you don’t see in the 11’s game.
Can you tell us about fears you had to overcome to compete at Rio?
I was dehydrated and sleep-deprived at my first practice before our first game in Spain, completely lost my vision, but still needed to practice for 30 minutes in order to actually qualify for the team. It was manic, it was true survival.
Did your condition scare you?
To be honest, I was never fearful, in fact during surgery I had a 'no cry' rule.
From your perspective, having gone through this, any tips for athletes for dealing with fear?
An iron will gets you past what you have going on. Even a lack of feeling can be innate. In my case, my personal WILL was my driving force.
What about the role of technology in your game?
I wore the Storelli Head Guard even before my injury and have continued to wear it whenever I play. The way I see it if you can use protective gear to your advantage mentally, go for it, anything to give you an edge. The head guard gives me 'this will be okay' mental edge. Right now, I'm confident I can play without it, but I use it because 'why not' and I never want to have a concussion.
Do your opponents pick on your weakness and strategize?
Yes, the scouting reports are taken very seriously. People notice when a guy has a limp right hand to push goals to the right side of the net. It's ruthless. It's cutthroat. But that’s what makes it so challenging and interesting. The players go all out.
How critical is your pre-game routine?
I know going into the game if I'm going to have a good game or not. Getting in the zone is a 48-hour exercise, 7-8 bottles of water each day, 8+ hours of sleep, light physical activity. It's new, but performance is still tied to preparation.
What stood out to you most on the team?
My teammates, their stories and their courage. Three were ex-military, including Josh Brunais who suffered two separate helicopter crashes, broke his neck and still managed to save other people from burning alive. Then there's Seth Jahn, who fell off a plane and a building. He's a 6'4 rock of a human being.
Is there a team bond? Camaraderie?
Yes, there's definitely an element of overcoming something no one else has, especially with a majority of our team being there following traumatic brain injuries. We all know we struggled.
How did it feel to represent your country?
I was overwhelmed by emotions. Patriotism played a big role in my emotions during the walkouts in Rio.
Tell us more about your performance in Rio.
42 saves in 4 games. Very proud.
Who do you look up to?
Buffon, Casillas, Howard
Who do you respect out of all the teams you played?
Holland. Classy guys.
Photography by Amanda Mott