Team USA Resident-Athlete Series: Ricky Ties of Para Judo

By Melissa Zhang | June 28, 2019, 12:13 p.m. (ET)

Judo athlete Ricky Ties stands on the training mat at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Ties will be competing at the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball and Judo International Qualifier next week.

Get to know the athletes living at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Center in Chula Vista, California through the Team USA Resident-Athlete Series. Each month, will feature one Paralympic athlete in detail, as they share their athletic and personal journeys, favorite pump-up song, goals for the future, and much more.

Meet Para judo athlete Ricky Ties, one of the many resident-athletes living and training at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Ties will be competing at the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball and Judo International Qualifier, a tournament that will give world championship-level qualifying points towards the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, in Fort Wayne, Indiana next week.

Name: Ricky Ties

Age: 37

Sport: Para judo

Hometown: Rochester, Minnesota

School: Rochester Community & Technical College, University of Wisconsin La Crosse (psychology), The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (masters in sport psychology)

Recent accomplishments: Won bronze at the 2018 IBSA Grand Prix and placed seventh at the 2018 IBSA Judo World Cup

Favorite thing about living in Colorado Springs: The weather

Favorite meal in the dining hall: I'm from the Midwest, so I enjoy when we have things like macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, pulled pork...any of the comfort foods. 


When did you first get involved with your sport?
I started judo when I was 32. I grew up as a wrestler and wrestled through high school and college, then went into coaching. I ran my own club back in Minnesota, working with youth and high school kids, so I’ve always been involved in combat sports and coaching.

In 2014, USA Judo posted an article saying they were looking for wrestlers with visual impairments. A friend of mine forwarded it to me and I decided to give it a try. My first competition in judo was November 2014. 


The first part of the transition from wrestling to judo was pretty smooth because the cardio, footwork and balance are similar. The mental part of being able to fight one-on-one is also similar. But judo is very technically different than wrestling. The moves are not the same, so the transition was difficult on the technical side, but pretty smooth on the physical side. 

What’s your favorite thing about your sport?
My favorite thing about judo is the opportunity to compete and train for something. I get to travel all over the world for judo, make friends, learn about new cultures, try new foods and see new places. It's an amazing experience. 

Where is the coolest place that you’ve competed at?
We competed in Portugal last year for the world championships. I really enjoyed the food, and that is just a really nice part of the world. 

What other sports do you like playing/watching?
I played football growing up and I'm a huge fan of baseball. I have six brothers and we all play different sports, so I follow a lot of sports. I still try to wrestle a little bit when I can.

Who is someone you look up to and consider a role model?

I learn from my family, my friends in the sports world, friends in academics, friends from strength training and the people in my bible study group. I try to take a little bit from everyone.


If you could play another Paralympic sport, it would be?

There is a blind form of baseball called Beepball, and there has been talk of it someday being in the Paralympics. I have never played, but think I would be interested in that. Baseball was always my favorite sport, and have never been able to play.


What’s your favorite pump-up song before you compete?
I'm a very laid-back competitor. On the morning of a competition, I'm usually listening to Christian music. It keeps me focused and laid back.

Do you have a favorite snack/food?
When I'm living at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, I eat a lot of the Smuckers Uncrustables. My favorite foods would be fried chicken and mac and cheese. 

What are you most excited for this year?
Definitely the qualifiers next week in Indiana. I've been competing internationally for Team USA since early 2015 and this is the first time that we've hosted the world championships here in the United States. Through my sport psychology background, I realize how important it is when you don't have to worry about the language barrier, the jetlag, the different food, etc.


It’s a great opportunity for my family and friends to be there as well. I've had a lot of huge matches overseas and most of the time, it's mainly just been a handful of teammates cheering. It'll be nice to have the crowd behind us and to be on home soil. 

What has been your proudest moment in your athletic career so far?
Regrouping and switching over to judo. Coaching and competing are two different worlds; I knew it was going to be a very humbling experience, especially going in to a new sport at a later age.


I’m proud to have made that sacrifice and taken that chance, putting myself in an uncomfortable situation, learning new things and starting at the bottom in my 30s. It was scary and exciting to come back at a higher level than I'd ever reached before. 

What are some of your goals for your athletic career?
My short-term goals are to get to Tokyo 2020 and be a medal contender. I don't want to be in a place where I need the perfect draw and everything to go right for me to earn a medal. I want to be someone who's in the hunt and have myself in a position, physically, emotionally and skillfully, to be a top contender in Tokyo. 


For my long-term goals, I'm hoping to keep myself in a position where I can keep competing at a high level for many years to come. I am fortunate to be able to come back 10 years after I finished competing collegiately. I know it's very rare to be able to do that, so it's an honor to be able to compete. I'm just taking it in and appreciating where I'm at.