New Program Launches Possibility For Vets in Salt Lake City

By Ernest Pund | Oct. 16, 2013, 12:27 p.m. (ET)

Adam BlacAkburn, head instructor at USA Stars of Salt Lake City, knew judo had a lot to offer local athletes with disabilities, but it wasn’t until USA Judo stepped up with some funding that things took off.

Now, Blackburn runs weekly judo workouts at the Department of Recreational Therapy at the Veterans Administration in Salt Lake City, and some of those athletes are now attending regular classes at his nearby dojo.

“A program requires funding,” Blackburn said. “That’s just the way it is.”

It didn’t take a lot - enough to buy some gis for the vets, some mats for the annex-dojo at the Veterans Administration and help with transportation to get some of the athletes to workouts.

A letter from USA Judo went out earlier this year looking for programs with potential. Blackburn responded almost immediately. “He not only responded but took the ball and ran with it,” said Ed Liddie, USA Judo’s Director of High Performance.

Blackburn knew the potential was there because he’d already been working with adaptive sports programs for athletes with disabilities and he’d talked with the recreation department at the VA hospital about building a judo program for vets with disabilities but there wasn’t even a little money to get it off the ground.

After getting some funding from USA Judo, Blackburn held demos at a farmers market at the VA center – suggested by a recreation coordinator at the VA. Blackburn also contacted a department of the VA hospital that works specifically with veterans who have visual impairments.

“This is changing lives,” Blackburn said. “We show them what it feels like to do judo on the first day.”

Judo has long proven that it’s a great sport for athletes with visual impairments. “Some of these guys haven’t had a lot of physical activity. But, boy, they can grab on and go for a ride on the judo mats,” said Blackburn.

This veterans program in Salt Lake is open to people with lots of different disabilities but those with visual impairments have been most interested so far, Blackburn said.

USA Judo wants to introduce the sport to veterans and people with disabilities. The Olympic sports organization also hopes to foster and field some elite athletes from programs like this.