Friday, August 27, 2010

New Zealand blind man a judo champion

From The Dominion Post in NZ:

He cannot see his opponents but that hasn't stopped Jonathan Godfrey (pictured) winning a swag of judo medals.

A chance meeting with a Palmerston North judo coach on a plane 3 1/2 years ago inspired Dr Godfrey, now 38, to give it a go.

He won gold and bronze medals at last year's national judo championships and has two silvers from other competitions.

He believes blind people can compete in judo on a par with sighted people.

"There is no real difference. Blindness has not affected my ability to pick up moves, but does mean I have to be shown things in a different way. Being the demonstration model is a good way to learn.

"You have a hold on your opponent to do anything, it is what you do with your grip that counts."

Dr Godfrey is led on and off the mat and helped into position. Because judo competitors are in close contact during bouts, he can rely on touch to anticipate his opponents' next moves.

He has suffered from a degenerative eyesight condition since he was a toddler but was active in school sports.

"If you are an active blind person wanting a bit of rough and tumble, a substitute for rugby, judo ticks all the boxes."

With a PhD in statistics, he lectures at Massey University, is a Foundation of the Blind board member and vice-president of The Association of Blind Citizens.

Jenna, his german shepherd, accompanies him to competitions and attracts her own fans.

"She has only put her foot on the mat once during a training session – we were running around in circles and she wanted to join in. Normally she sits happily and watches very carefully. People look out for her at competitions."

Breaking his thumb in his first competition and injuring a foot when he accidentally kicked a competitor have not dented his enthusiasm.

Commonwealth Games medal winner Wayne Watson says Dr Godfrey is a very strong professional.

"I don't consider he is blind or give him an inch when I am fighting him. If you did he would take advantage of you."