In 2010, U.S. Paralympian Myles Porter was fully prepared to walk away from a rocketing career in judo.
The young fighter had just won a bronze medal at the World Judo Championships for blind and visually impaired athletes in Turkey and had stunned the judo world by taking silver at USA Judo’s Senior National Championships for able-bodied fighters. His star was clearly on the rise, headed straight for the podium of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, one of the most brightly lit arenas on the planet. What could possibly compel this quintessential athlete to set his dreams aside? A love of family, his country and the bugle call of the U.S. Army.
“I wanted to join the military to protect my little brother,” explains Porter. “My brother Mykel joined the Army, and I knew I had to be with him. When I went to the recruiter, I was ready to give it all up … I deeply respect the military. So many people have made difficult sacrifices for this country, for our values, for our ideals – I felt it was my turn, and I was determined to give back to our country.”
Porter’s love for judo, the sport he credits for every success in his life is surpassed only by his fervent patriotism and desire to somehowgive back to the country he loves. That desire and sense of duty, though, wasn’t enough. Porter’s intent to join his brother, who is based out of Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, was preempted by his visual impairment. He was born with ocular albinism, a visual deficit in which his retinas lack pigmentation and objects have no definition. In effect, an object a foot away appears 10 times further away, blurry and without detail. He is legally blind. As such, a career in the Army beside his brother, Pfc. Mykel Heberling, 22, is impossible.
“Myles is my biggest inspiration,” says Army intelligent analyst,Heberling. “He’s fought through so many things in life being legally blind and people telling him he couldn’t do stuff. He always took their expectations and exceeded them. It’s astonishing and speaks of his character in general. In fact, all of my army friends are his biggest fans. They all think he is a billy badass. They love to see him handle his business on the mat.”
To understand why an elite paralympian of Porter’s stature would feel driven to leave a career at its pinnacle, one doesn’t have to delve very far. Porter has always been surrounded by ardent patriots.
“My Great-Uncle Gordon served twice in Vietnam. My brother-in-law, Ryan, served in Afghanistan, and now my little brother Mykel is doing something meaningful with his life by being a part of the military,” says Porter.
Though he can’t join his heroes in the service, Porter has found a life-long way to honor his country. Porter, through his work with the Paralympics, has learned that his life as a disabled athlete serves as an inspiration to many wounded veterans who return to the homeland permanently scarred, emotionally and physically, by their experiences. As such, he works very closely with both USA Judo and the Paralympic arm of the U.S. Olympic Committee in touring bases throughout the states, speaking to wounded soldiers, and doing judo demonstrations for military personnel.
“One of the coolest things I do is work with the injured military,” says Porter. “There’s a real big disconnect when you go from having working limbs and working eyes to being in a wheelchair or being blind. I’ve been blind for 26 years and it’s still hard to cope when I can’t do something correctly. So, to be a guidance counselor and travel the country and teach these guys what can be done despite a traumatic disability is rewarding. We show them life doesn’t end when you become physically disabled.”
This summer, Porter hopes to win gold at the 2012 London Paralympics. “After all,” he states, “I want to represent our red, white and blue, and the only national anthem I know the words to, The Star Spangled Banner.”Follow Myles on Twitter @myles_porter.For further information on U.S. Paralympics, please visit