The 2023 Foreseeable Future grant recipient uses goalball to be an example to other blind athletes.
Jason Capati was about six years old when he began experiencing vision loss, so he has little memory of having near-perfect vision.
The first inkling that something was wrong occurred when Capati realized he had to sit closer to the television to watch cartoons with his family. In kindergarten, he had trouble copying sentences on the board. He constantly felt frustrated having to be pulled out of class to learn Braille or work with a mobility instructor.
Capati was soon diagnosed with Leber Hereditary Optic Neurology (LHON), an inherited condition that typically causes vision loss beginning in the teen years. Capati, who currently has an acuity of 20/600, developed symptoms earlier. His older brother Jeremy was diagnosed in his teens.
“It’s something that runs in my family,” explained the 29-year-old Capati, a bank analyst who was born in New York City but now resides outside Philadelphia in South Jersey. “It wasn’t a surprise, at leas to my parents. But it was a surprise it happened that early.”
Capati’s parents didn’t allow him or his older brother to use disability as an excuse to neglect their responsibilities at home or school. Vision loss didn’t prevent him from participating in sports as a kid. During gym class, the teacher made accommodations for him to play volleyball by spray painting the ball black. He played basketball through most of high school until the game became too fast for him.
“I still had enough vision to see to know where the hoop is. I couldn’t see where the rim was, but I knew the rim would be in the center of that big backboard. I learned how to dribble the ball really well, so I got surprisingly good at basketball.”
The summer before his freshman year of high school, Capati attended a blind summer camp in Rockaway, New Jersey. It was there that he was first introduced to goalball, although he didn’t begin playing until after giving up basketball. The physical education instructors at the camp showed a demo of goalball, and Capati’s interest was piqued. He and his mom also attended an adaptive sports clinic hosted by the New Jersey chapter of the United States Association of Blind Athletes.
The camp also gave Capati the realization he was not the only one who dealt with vision loss and the challenges associated with it.
“That’s where I met a lot of people that I still keep in touch with, lifelong friends. It really helped me adapt to knowing that I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t the only person going through (this).”
After graduating from high school, Capati graduated from Arcadia University in Pennsylvania with a health care management degree. He’s currently working on a master’s. But he spends a lot of his time playing goalball.
Basketball is an intense, physical game. But goalball is a unique sport that can be intimidating to even the most competitive athlete. Capati still recalls the first time he played.
“(I remember) standing on the court warming up and looking across. I see these mountain-size athletes and realizing that’s what you’re about to go up against. We didn’t come close to beating them. It was a 10-goal mercy rule. But those big losses are what sealed me to get better, practice and train more.”
The hard work began paying off. Capati plays for the Jawns, a team sponsored by the Blind Sports Organization (BSO), a nonprofit formerly known as Pennsylvania Association for Blind Athletes. BSO promotes goalball, beep baseball and other sports for the blind and visually impaired.
Goalball has given Capati the opportunity to travel, something he enjoys even when he isn’t competing. The Jawns have competed in numerous tournaments in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Georgia, British Columbia and Nova Scotia. The team has earned medals in many of those events, including gold at a tournament in Montreal and bronze at the 2022 Goalball Nationals.
Capati’s older brother Jeremy also plays goalball. When asked who has the most medals, Jason pauses only a fraction of a second before replying, “probably me.”
All kidding aside, both brothers have been supportive of each other’s sports success. Jeremy began playing goalball a year or so after Jason and had to adapt the same way his younger brother did. Jason strives to be a positive example to other blind individuals learning the sport.
“I try to be the best leader possible, whether it’s on my team or other up-and-coming athletes. I’m always trying to help them get better at their game.”
Capati was introduced to the Foreseeable Future Foundation through a friend who had previously received funding. Capati applied and was accepted as a 2023 grant recipient. He is grateful to FFF for helping to cover the cost of traveling to tournaments and transportation to practice.
“It’s huge. Travel is so expensive now. It’s a lot easier knowing I can make goalball one of my priorities. It’s one of the expenses I can budget for knowing I have this help.”
Away from the goalball court, Capati enjoys traveling and spending time with his girlfriend Leonela. The two met shortly after the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and have been together for three years.
Capati hopes to finish earning his master’s degree, keep in shape and work on becoming a better goalball player. As much as he enjoys winning, he also relishes the process of coming together as a team.
“Winning is good, but we learn the most from our losses. Goalball is so translatable (to life). The leadership I’ve learned from goalball, I don’t think I would have learned anywhere else.”