Throwing for gold: Judo athlete going to Paralympics

Legally blind Victoria Judo Club member Tim Rees is going to the Paralympics

Tim Rees throws a fellow member of the Victoria Judo Club

Some of Tim Rees’ Paralympic judo opponents won’t see him at all.

Others will have better vision than his, which is limited at best, as he’s legally blind.

It won’t matter, he says.

“If we are separated at any time, the match stops and we reset our grip.”

Rees’ level of vision is mostly peripheral. “It will be somewhere in the middle compared to the guys I’m up against.”

Matches start with a hold of each other’s gi to level the field. It’s the only difference between the Olympic and Paralympic judo formats.

“Once you’re in a full grip there’s not much disadvantage to having poor eyes because you can feel where your opponent is moving,” Rees said.

The 32-year-old trains with the Victoria Judo Club out of the Burnside Gorge Community Centre and competes in both formats. Even with his lack of eyesight, which is due to rod cone dystrophy, a rare form of macular degeneration, he still finished fifth at the Canadian nationals in his weight class last month.

But because there aren’t enough visually impaired judo athletes in Canada to populate a national tournament, he had to qualify for the upcoming London Paralympic Games through international tournaments.

He did that with fifth and seventh place finishes at the world Paralympic games in 2011 and 2010, respectively, and a bronze medal at the 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The bronze came just weeks after Rees moved to Victoria with his wife and two sons, now two and four years old, from Waterloo, Ont. He completed his doctorate in applied mathematics and came here to start his current job as a postdoctoral research fellow at UVic’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences.

His eyesight began deteriorating in his late teens and has declined more rapidly than expected. “There is a ray of hope to one day restore my sight through a research project currently underway, maybe five or 10 years down the road, but mine is a rarer condition under the broader scope of the research.”

In the meantime, Rees says it’s a pretty normal life. He’s the only visually impaired member of the 55-year-old Victoria Judo Club, but is adamant in his belief that judo is an ideal sport for visually impaired people to practise.

“It’s a very accommodating club and is a great way to spend time.”

Rees opens the London Paralympic judo competition with a qualifying round on Saturday, Sept. 1.

“I’ve faced many of the athletes in my category before, and they’re surprisingly strong. They have a great sense of balance,” Rees said.