USA Judo and Menomonee Judo Club just held their second annual camp for visually impaired athletes in Chicago last weekend, and Nadia Montanez couldn’t have been happier.
“It was really cool to get to work out with Myles and Marc again,” the 15-year-old said. “They inspire me to try and qualify for the Paralympic Games.”
That was the point.
Myles Porter took a silver medal at the Paralympic Games in London last summer and Marc Vink is one of the most experienced coaches for visually impaired athletes in the country.
“We have been looking forward to this camp for six months,” said Brett Wolf, head instructor of Menomonee Judo, which was recently named an official USA Judo Paralympic Training Site. “Our up-and-coming players with visual impairments were able to show what we’ve been working on at the dojo.”
"It was a really good experience. I can’t tell you how much the players have improved just since I was here in November,” said Porter. “I'm excited about the direction that paralympic judo is headed here in the U.S. It's an honor to be a role model to these up-and-coming players," he said.
USA Judo is committed to developing paralympic Judo starting at the community level. Menomonee Judo runs paralympic programs through the public schools, park district and Boys and Girls Clubs in Chicago with between 40 and 50 athletes with visual impairments on the mats every week and another 100 athletes with other physical and intellectual disabilities attending classes. “I can't thank USA Judo, World Sport Chicago and the Chicago Park District enough for their continued support," said Wolf.
USA Judo’s Director of High Performance Eddie Liddie said this is all part of USA Judo’s commitment to introduce visually impaired athletes to the sport and foster their talent. “We could see some of these young athletes at the Paralympic Games in 2020, and some of them maybe as soon as 2016,” said Liddie.
A number of the camp participants are in serious training to represent the United States at the IBSA World Youth and Student Championships this July in Colorado Springs, said coach Wolf. The tournament is the World Championships for judoka under 21-years-old with visual impairment. These athletes hope to use the tournament as a springboard towards qualifying for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Sara Luna, 15, one of the top young female paralympic judo players in the United States is enjoying every step of the journey. "I love doing Judo!” she said. “Whether it's a tournament or just practice, I look forward to getting on the mat."
Both Sara and Gaia Iaccarino recently received $2,500 grants for training and traveling from Game On!, a foundation that empowers young girls through participation in sports. Part of this money will go towards sending Sara and Gaia to Colorado. Gaia will be representing the United States at the Para Pan American Judo Championships that same weekend.
For more information on class schedules and upcoming events at Menomonee Judo Club and its partners, please visit: www.brettwolfjudo.com.
For complete Olympic coverage and upcoming judo events, please visit ww.usjudo.org