I want start by saying that I have never been more impressed or excited about a new group of athletes in all my years with Paralympic Judo. We have found some really good athletes but have never had so much potential from one introductory training camp!
We hosted an introductory training camp in October of 2014 with the intention of finding potential future Paralympians. Some of the participants had some judo but most had little to no judo experience. Several did have wrestling and/or BJJ experience. Over the years, we have done many intro camps/clinics for the USABA, USA Judo, and other organizations, and have found some good athletes, but near the end of the first practice when we had the group do some ne waza (grappling sparring) Heidi and I watched the first few rounds and we looked at each other with looks of shock and excitement and said WOW! We were truly blown away by this group of athletes!
I’m not cool enough to be a “give a shout out” kind of guy but before I go any further I want to give a HUGE shout out to my wife, Heidi Moore who is the assistant coach of the Paralympic program. Heidi, a self-proclaimed Facebook stalker of blind athletes found most of the attendees for this camp. A few were referred by their coaches and one who was a collegiate wrestler found us and contacted USA Judo, but Heidi found most of them through articles about blind wrestlers or BJJ athletes and then found them on Facebook and invited them to camp, and she worked with USA Judo to put the camp together!
What was so great about this group was not just their athletic ability, though that was pretty impressive too. They were all excited about learning judo, and were ready to train hard and start competing right away. Don’t get me wrong, I think judo is great for everyone whether they want to compete or not, but our primary focus in the Paralympic program is to find and develop athletes for Paralympic competition, so it can be hard to find people who are athletic and also interested in learning judo from within the blind and visually impaired community.
The first camp was in October and consisted of a workout on Friday evening, then 2 on Saturday with an optional BJJ workout that most attended between the two judo workouts. Then a workout on Sunday morning for those with flights late enough to attend. We spent a lot of the time practicing techniques but we wanted to give them a taste of what a normal judo camp was like so we did some drills and randori during each session and they were tired but everyone worked hard and they all loved it. I actually told them that I was beside myself with excitement by the end of the weekend. Oh and on top of being a talented, hard-working group of athletes, they were all really cool and fun to work with. No one had an ego, and everyone was open to learning and trying new things.
We talked to those who are not already in a local club about finding a club and starting to train and compete. We talked to them about attending as many tournaments as possible including the national tournaments that have VI divisions, so 4 of them went to Dallas in November and fought in the Dallas Invitational and the President’s Cup the next day. They fought in the novice divisions in both tournaments and the VI division of the President’s Cup. They all did very well in their respective novice divisions and the only one that did not win the VI division took second to one of the other new guys. It was great, they were there to fight and all got several matches. As a matter of fact, 18-year old Robbie Alcorn went something like 10-2 for the weekend, taking 2 gold medals and 1 silver medal.
Like I said before, they were a great group, and I thought it was really cool when Heidi told me that they told her it was cool to be there with their teammates. They went to one introductory camp together and were in Dallas already thinking of each other as teammates. That made me very proud and renewed my excitement for working with them. It certainly didn’t hurt that they kicked butt too, but more than just athletic ability, they have great attitudes.
So after the tournament, we scheduled another camp that was held this past weekend from January 16-18, 2015. We had all but one of the guys who went to Dallas and a few new people along with some that have been in the program for a little while but are still fairly new. We held this on at my club in Denver again. I was also happy to have 3 people from Denver Judo back on the mat after some time away from judo and will hopefully be seeing a lot more of them in practice and future camps and tournaments. This camp, just like the first one was a huge success, so now we are talking about bringing several of these guys to our next elite training camp. We are also talking about taking them to some of the international VI tournaments and training camps in Brazil and Germany to get them some international experience. The tournaments will be good for them but at this point, the training camps will be even more important.
I would normally never recommend a group of new guys who have only been to 2 introductory camps and training for less than a year spend the money to travel overseas for tournaments but I truly believe some of these guys can not only handle it but will do very well, and even if they don’t medal or even win any matches, they can get some good experience and will do very well at the training camps. One thing that really frustrates me is that so many people seem to think that Paralympic judo is easy or not like “real” judo or something like that. If it were not competitive I would not be so passionate about it. Contrary to what many seem to believe, Paralympic judo is very strong. We may not have the depth that Olympic judo has but our top guys train hard and take it just as seriously as the Olympians do. I know I did.
I also appreciate that some of the guys, though now qualified to attend the world cup tournament in Hungary next month, which is a qualifying event for Rio 2016, recognize they are not quite ready for a tournament of that caliber but have elected to go to Brazil and/or Germany where the competition is strong but will not draw as many of the top contenders from around the world as the qualifying event will. Two of the guys did decide to go and I was a little concerned but after watching them at camp this past weekend I realized they will be fine. One of them was a collegiate wrestler and is a wrestling coach so he is tough as hell and can grind with anyone, and the other is a purple belt in BJJ and was a boxer before losing his sight so he is tough as hell too. I have no doubt that once the younger guys gain a little more experience they will be attending higher caliber events and will be strong contenders in no time at all.
It’s really exciting to have such an enthusiastic group of athletes to work with. Several of the guys have talked about coming out to stay with Heidi and me during breaks from school to train with us. I wrote an article a while back called I can’t do the work for you, and with these guys I do not have to because they are excited about learning judo and serious about training and competing.
Before I end, I have to give an honorable mention to Justin who is a 15-year old judoka from Canada who came to camp. His coach saw something about the camp on Facebook and contacted Heidi to ask if he could attend. He has been doing judo for 5 years and has met some of the Canadian team online but has never met another visually impaired judo player, so of course we said he could come to camp so he and his mother jumped on a plane and came to Denver to train with us. Justin was a great kid and fit in really well with everyone and has already talked about coming to stay with us during his break to train. It was great to have Justin and his mom at Denver Judo and I look forward to seeing them again either in Denver or at one of the other events around the world.
I know this article is a little shorter than previous articles, but I am sure you will be reading more about this group in the future!
As always thanks for reading.
I’ll talk to you soon…