By: Lauren Peterson, M.S., CSCS, FMS-Level 1

In late 2012, while completing my masters degree at the University of Georgia, one of my exercise physiology professors, who knew my interest in strength and conditioning, asked if I would be interested in working with a Freshman who was a member of the USA Women’s Goalball team (a Paralympic sport for visually impaired athletes). I had never heard of Goalball before that conversation but was excited for a challenge and the opportunity to coach and gladly accepted.

The athlete whose sport I knew nothing about was Amanda Dennis. Originally from Peachtree City, Georgia, Amanda was born with anirdia and nystagmus. As a child, she was exposed to many sports but eventually landed in Goalball, advanced through the national levels and at the age of 19 landed a spot on the US Women’s team to compete in the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

Amanda returned from London a few months prior to our first meeting. After a disappointing showing for the Women’s Goalball Team in the 2012 Olympic games, she was eager to be her best for Rio 2016. When we first started working together, we were unsure of one another to say the least. I was figuring out how to best train her, and she didn’t think I knew what I was doing (and Amanda would never hesitate to tell me haha). But neither of us gave up, we kept pushing forward, making adjustments and building trust along the way.

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Throughout the past two and a half years of working together, Amanda has not only gained strength, power, and speed, but she has helped the US Women’s team win a World Championship (qualifying the team for Rio 2016) and continues to develop into one of the world’s best players.

While strength gains and gold medals are impressive, what is more important to me is Amanda’s heart (she hears me say it all the time). I’ve always told Amanda that I admire her success, her abilities, her dedication, and her work ethic but what is most important to me is her heart attitude and how she responds to teammates, opponents, coaches, officials, and fans on and off the court. Because at the end of the day, your gold medals may or may not be remembered, but your attitude, your actions, and your integrity will always be remembered. I have watched Amanda grow in all of these areas and to me this is greater than any medal!

This week is my last week working with Amanda as her strength and conditioning coach (hopefully only for a short time). Amanda is graduating and accepted an internship with Coke in Atlanta.

Amanda and I have been through a great deal together and through it all developed a close bond. I’m grateful to Amanda for her trust and for always keeping me on my toes. Our time together molded me into the coach I am today.

Wherever Amanda goes, I know she will be successful, and I hope she knows, I will be behind her every step to Rio and beyond.

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