Very early on, U.S.A. Judo Paralympian, Ron Hawthorne, 26, understood the path to the 2012 London Paralympics would not be a stroll down Easy Street, but a tough, rugged path marked by sheer grit, sacrifice and stubborn determination.
Hawthorne, who fights in the 60 kg division, suffered a traumatic head injury at the age of two. This injury resulted in optic nerve atrophy, a form of irreversible damage to the optic nerve which rendered him permanently visually impaired. Hawthorne credits his grandparents, Johnny and Dorothy Alexander, for pushing him past his disability from a very young age.
“I dealt with my impairment and learned early on how to cope with it,” says Hawthorne. “My grandparents forced me to figure things out on my own, and they never let me back down from anything.”
Hawthorne got his start in judo when he was a freshman living in Kansas City, Kansas. He recalled watching the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and vowed to make a name for himself on the Paralympic stage. “I watched wrestling, track and field and other sports during those Olympics, and though I was a 10-year-old, I knew eventually I’d get there,” recalls Hawthorne.
In 2010, after several training sessions with Paralympic Team Head Instructor, Scott Moore, Hawthorne became a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “I had to prove myself over and over again to get into the OTC,” says Hawthorne. “I was a rookie and at times, the pressure got to me. But, I learned quickly to fight hard … joining the OTC was a turning point in my career.”
Moore, himself a 2000 Paralympic gold medalist, has a keen instinct for untapped talent in ambitious judokas: “I have always been impressed with Ron’s athletic ability. He is a very gifted athlete and pound for pound, one of the most powerful athletes I've ever worked with,” says Moore. “He has a great work ethic and always trains hard, on and off the mat. I believe Ron will represent the United States well in London and will win his first of many Paralympic medals!”
Today, Hawthorne doesn’t mind his “underdog” status. His time at the OTC has been a catalyst for exponential growth and opportunity. He has steadily risen up the international ranks in the world of judo, and is now, more than ever, eager to demonstrate he is worthy of his paralympian status.
“My biggest focus has been to get to London,” explains Hawthorne. “I know I am underrated and overlooked by many opponents, but you know what? That’s ok. All I want to do is win gold. I can’t wait to see my grandmother and put my gold medal around my grandma’s neck. That is my biggest goal.”
Follow Ron Hawthorne on Twitter @showtime_60kg. For further information on U.S. Paralympics, please visit http://www2.teamusa.org/US-Paralympics.aspx.