Paralympians prepare for VI US Open in Colorado

GB Paralympians Sam Ingram, Dan Powell and Marc Powell are part of a team of six judoka gearing up for the 2013 Visually Impaired US Open taking place at the US Olympic Training Centre in Colorado on Sunday 14 July.

The competition, on the day after the Pan American Games, will be followed by a training camp from 15 to 17 July to enable the team to train with other top judoka from around the world.

Led by head coach Jean-Paul Bell, the full team includes Marc Powell (-73kg), Jonathan Drane (-73kg), Dan Powell (-81kg) Gavin Towers (-81kg), Sam Ingram (-90kg) and Christopher Skelley (-100kg).

Following a silver medal at the Paralympics of 2012, Ingram helped raise the profile of Visually Impaired Judo internationally and is instantly recognisable as one the faces of VI Judo.

Ingram fought in the British Judo National Team Championships last weekend as an able-bodied athlete, helping Scotland achieve Gold. This was an important event for the athlete as he looks to make the transition from VI to able-bodied sport. He was also a bronze medallist in the British Championships.

He said: “I’m happy to be here for the first time in the U.S. I have to say that the Olympic Training Centre is a very impressive place be. I’m looking forward to competing and I think the team has a good chance of doing well.”

He is joined by fellow Paralympians and brothers Dan and Marc Powell. Dan placed 7th in the Paralympics, while Marc went to the Paralympics only to be knocked out of the Games in the early stages, but is a bronze medal holder from the V.I German open in 2012 and gained another bronze in a sighted event in Venray Holland earlier this year.

Marc Powell said: “As a squad, things are going very well, we have been lightly training with JP and new boy Denny Robberts.

“I have learned never to expect in judo, it is such an unpredictable sport. All I can say is that I have trained to the best of my ability, on the day I will aim to compete as hard as I can and take every contest as it comes.”

Arriving in Colorado a few days earlier, they were able to train at the USA Olympic Training Centre and to have a chance to get acclimatised to the high altitude in the American Rocky Mountains.

Head Paralympic Coach JP Bell said: “We are not fighting until Sunday, so we have been training and getting acclimatised to the altitude. We will be watching the Pan American Games on Saturday and getting ready for our big day on Sunday.

“Already the competition is fierce, there are around 15 medallists here from the London 2012 Paralympics but we have a strong team and should do well. This is a different challenge as GB don’t often get to fight in America.”

For Gavin Towers, this will be his third international, after joining the VI Judo Squad at the beginning of 2012 when he was diagnosed with a genetic degenerative disorder affecting the eyes, Retinitis Pigmentosa.

In 2012 he competed in his first VI competition in Germany, but prior to this he trained with the full Olympic team throughout the Olympic year. He said: “2013 marks the first tangible part of my drive to achieve Gold in the Rio Paralympics of 2016. I have now been training on a full time basis since March and the coming year will enable me to meet the best face to face in competition.”

On the US Open he said: “This is my 3rd VI competition and as you can imagine I’m really looking forward to it. Coming to the US, competing and training with the squad is a real honour. I have been training full time in Kendal for 18 months and relish the opportunity to see how I’m progressing against the best VI players in the world. I have a really supportive family, great coach and group of training partners and hope to do them proud.”

The event will also be a chance for other judoka to showcase their talents.

Christopher Skelley, the bronze medallist from the U20s British Championships will be hoping for a good result after a gold win in the Venray International in Holland as will fellow Venray gold medallist Jonathan Drane.

Jonathan Drane said: “The Olympic Training Centre in Colorado has been a phenomenal experience so far. You really get a feel for what it must be like to be part of team USA, the level of patriotism (they do love a flag) and how effective and enjoyable the multi-sport environment is.

“I have no expectations as it is my first VI competition so adjustments have to be made, the only thing I have made a point of is that I still consider myself to be just a plumber from Norwich, this way I truly appreciate/understand the magnitude of my opportunity and will do my best to just ‘wing it’ to my full potential.”

Words by Donna Richardson.