NORMAN — Splitting her childhood and adolescence between a father in Norman and a mother in Toulouse, France, hasn’t bothered 16-year-old Heloise Walters so far — she’s used to it. Plus, living in France introduced her to a passion she probably wouldn’t have found in Norman: team handball.
Walters grew up attending school in France. On her breaks she traveled to Norman to visit her dad, a life-long Norman resident. Her dual citizenship allows her to live the best of both worlds, as far as handball goes.
In France, where handball is highly competitive and popular, she gets to practice and compete at handball clubs. In the U.S., where the sport is hardly known or played, she easily jumped onto the national junior team, which she helped take third place at the Partille Cup, the largest international youth handball tournament, in Sweden earlier this month.
Walters began playing handball about five or six years ago. She immediately fell in love with the action-packed sport, and at the Partille Cup she was delighted to socialize with people from all over the world who share her passion.
“You get to see how they live and how they put handball in their lives,” Walters said. “We all have this one common theme, that we love playing handball, and that just made it a really fun experience.”
Handball could be described as a mix between soccer and basketball — players pass a ball to each other and try to throw it into the other team’s goal, which resembles a small soccer goal. The game is fast-paced, high-scoring and involves a lot of physical contact as players try to defend their goals.
Handball as it’s played now has remained popular in northern Europe since the early 1900s, and over time it’s spread across the globe and become a well-watched Olympic sport. However, Americans are still generally unfamiliar with the sport, and that’s something handball fans are trying to change.
“I’m not sure how long it will take, but I think it definitely will because it’s just a really great sport,” Walters said.
Traveling back and forth between two homes, cultures and languages doesn’t seem to phase Walters — after all, she’s been doing it her whole life. And to her European friends who dream of visiting America, it’s a privilege to call Norman home.
“In Europe everyone really wants to go to the U.S.,” she said. “It’s just really nice to be able to see both perspectives, and I don’t really come (to Norman) as a tourist — I live here.”
Her dream is to make a career out of handball and play on an Olympic team some day. But for now, Walters plans to attend a training camp in the south of France in August and potentially compete in the Pan American Women’s Junior Handball Championship in March in Argentina.
Her passion seems to run in the family, so the handball world had better watch out for Walters’ French half-sister who has taken an interest in the sport as well.
“She’s 2 and she already likes handball,” Walters said. “I bought her a tiny ball in Sweden.”