Visually Impaired Athletes Train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center

March 01, 2009, 3:14 p.m. (ET)
With the 2012 Paralympic Games three and a half years away, 14 blind or visually impaired athletes came to the U.S. Olympic Training Center this week with aspirations of fighting for gold in London. 

Although most of the athletes are still new to high-level competition, two athletes bring very different experiences to the judo mat. 

Christella Garcia (Chicago, Ill. / Tohkon Judo) made her international debut at the World Blind Judo Championships in Sao Paolo in 2007 where she surprised everyone with her fifth-place finish in the 63kg division. 

With one qualifying tournament left for the 2008 Paralympic Games, Garcia was a favorite to go to Beijing; however, she hadn't qualified to compete at the ParaPan American Games and was several points short on the World Rankings List of being able to fight in Beijing. 

Jason Keaton (Elizabethtown, K.Y.) may be new to judo, but the man who goes by "Blind Fury" in MMA circles holds a black belt in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and has both fought professionally as well as trained MMA fighters at Cyclone Martial Arts. 

In addition to the U.S. athletes, two players from Sweden - 2008 Paralympian Nicolina Pernheim and Sofia Moller - travelled to Colorado Springs to train at the OTC.

"These athletes came from all over the country to train this week and are the future of Paralympic judo," said Heidi Moore (Englewood, Colo.), a two-time World Team member and the Head Instructor of the camp.  "I'm excited to be working with them and hope everyone comes out to watch them fight at Nationals where USA Judo will have a visually impaired division for the first time ever."

Athletes arrived at the OTC on Wednesday and participated in twice-daily training sessions on Thursday and Friday, first with a two-hour morning session and later working out with the USA Judo National Training Site at the Olympic Training Center Team in the evening.

"It was great seeing the elite players pitch in to work with the Paralympic development athletes and overall the camp has gone very well from both sides," said USA Judo Director of Athlete Performance Eddie Liddie (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

During one of the training sessions, Liddie encouraged the visually impaired players to contact him if they would like to return to the USA Judo National Training Site to train again.

"That's what the Training Sites are there for, to work with both their athletes who train their year-round as well as to accommodate athletes who want to come and train for short periods, both sighted and visually impaired players.

In addition to on-the-mat sessions, athletes also worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee Strength and Conditioning Staff in the weight room and were educated on anti-doping policies by the staff of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

On Saturday, the visually impaired athletes competed against sighted players at the Hyland Hills Throwdown at Woodrow Wilson Academy in Westminster, Colo.