FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Huntington native Zach Buhler dreamed of being a professional athlete. If there was a sport he could think of, he wanted to be involved.
“I played pretty much year-round, every sport I could get my hands on,” Buhler recalls.
Buhler’s love of sports – and his livelihood – was rocked after being diagnosed with a rare disability in his teens.
Zach started having issues with his vision. Doctors discovered Buhler had torn and detached retinas. A few years later he was diagnosed with with Stickler Syndrome – a genetic disorder that breaks down connective tissues in his body.
Buhler became blind at 12 years old.
The active, energetic child was limited in what he could do. Buhler struggled to adjust without his sight.
“Just being an athlete all my life,” Buhler said. “Just having that (vision) taken away was just a little different and really hard to get used to.”
With no vision, Buhler relied on his grandma, his uncle and his best friend, Spencer Ballinger, to adjust to his new reality.
Ballinger, who currently plays basketball at Huntington University, always challenged Buhler to play 1-on-1. Spencer treated Zach like any other player, never giving an inch.
“Zach’s a great guy, great competitor, and it’s always been fun to compete against him in everything we do, and make each other better,” Ballinger said.
The few times Buhler got the better of his friend meant that much more to him.
“It’d just be that much sweeter, and that gave me a drive to want to push harder and not let sight be a limitation,” Buhler said.
Buhler may have lost his vision, but he never lost his competitive spirit. The athlete often visited Turnstone, which is how he learned about goalball, a Paralympic sport designed for athletes with visual impairments.
It didn’t take long for Buhler to get hooked with the sport. What started as a hobby became his new passion.
“I fell in love with the grind,” Buhler said. “I fell in love with how competitive it can be, and just the new level that it can take you to.”
Buhler was determined to land a spot on the roster that would compete in the most recent summer Paralympics. Shortly after the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Buhler was driven to earn a spot in the next summer games. After years of work, Buhler was named to the 6-man roster.
The U.S. men’s goalball team finished in fourth place in Tokyo. Buhler also played a key role for Team USA in this winter’s Americas Championship in Brazil, scoring the third-most goals on the team (17) as the team earned a silver medal.
With just over two years until the next summer games in Paris, Buhler aims to help Team USA finish on the podium in the next Paralympics. The Huntington native also hopes his story inspires those who are living with physical disabilities or anyone that is enduring hardships.