Monday, May 4, 2009

Paralympic Judo

Once a boy was trapped. He was trapped in a tunnel that seemed to have no light at the end, no flicker of hope in sight. He was lost, searching for an escape, a solution, a resurrection. After stumbling around in the darkness, he found no easy answers. So he fled the tunnel the only way he knew how, in an act of final desperation. The tunnel was his life. And the boy was named Greg. His method of escape was a shotgun. At nearly l:00 a.m., just 20 days before Greg's 18th birthday, he set the gun under his chin, took a few deep breaths, and pulled the trigger in hopes of ending his constant stress and pain the easiest way he knew how. That's where Greg thought this story ended. But that's only where it begins.

Greg, now 28, survived his suicide attempt, but his eyesight did not. When he pulled the trigger, the noise of the shot startled Greg's sister and mother who were both home at the time. They ran into Greg's room only to discover his failed suicide attempt. He was immediately rushed to the hospital for treatment. What could have been a fatal shot to the brain instead severely damaged Greg's face. He said, surprisingly enough, he did not lose consciousness, and walked himself out to the ambulance. Greg doesn't remember much of the night, or the following week in the hospital. When he finally gained awareness of his situation, Greg realized that shooting himself had not been a solution at all. He deeply regretted his choice. "I was grateful for my life, but at the same time thinking, 'what am I going to do now?'" Greg said, recalling his state of confusion.


The question, "what am I going to do now?" is the question that made Greg load the gun and lift it to his chin in the first place. As a senior in Chico, CA, Greg recalls being unsure of his future and overwhelmed by the stress that came with choosing a fate for himself. It seemed like everyone had sketched a map for the future except him. His friends were anticipating college, he couldn't picture himself on a campus. His father wanted him to join the military, but he couldn't picture himself in a uniform. "All of a sudden, I realized I had six months to prepare for the world, and I hadn't," Greg said. "No one ever told me I could take my first year of college and figure that out. People acted like l needed to know yesterday what I wanted to do."

Waking up in that hospital bed, left without a plan for the future or his eyesight, Greg focused on navigating the world with a visual impairment. A world that was once overwhelmed with options--college, football, wrestling--just became a whole lot darker.

Years passed, and Greg eventually realized that he wanted to lose a few pounds and rejoin the realm of athletics. He had grown up an athlete, talented and full of potential. When he went in for a health checkup in December of 2005, his doctor recommended he try judo, an activity often deemed very blind-friendly, meaning the sport did not have to be too severely adapted for the blind and visually impaired in order to compete.

On the very same day Greg heard about judo from his doctor, he attended his first practice. "It was an impulse decision, I didn't even really know what judo was," Greg said. "But as soon as I heard there was no punching or kicking, I was all about that!" Greg started competing in local tournaments among both sighted and blind athletes and eventually grew to love the sport. "Some people in society say regardless of a disability, you can do anything you want. I found that limitations do exist," Greg said. "The trick is to work as hard as you can within your limitations. It was about accepting, understanding, and maximizing what I can do with the least amount of limits."


In February of 2007, Greg was discovered at the San Jose Buddhist Sensei Memorial Tournament where he went 4-0 against sighted competition. He was asked to try out for the U.S. Blind Judo team in April. Greg happily accepted, and his hard work ethic finally paid off. He landed a spot on the team--weight class (100 kg) to compete in the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. Though Greg is one of the smaller athletes in his weight class, size doesn't intimidate him--a confidence he attributes to his former wrestling career--and he sounds fairly confident that the spot will be his for the taking in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

"I've altered my life for judo," Greg said. "If I bring home a medal from China, this will all be worth it. I started judo for the workouts. I never imagined going to Brazil (for the World Championships and Para Pan American Games) or being on my way to Beijing ... that's all just icing on the cake."

Currently, Greg is a student at Chico State in California. He is focusing his attention on therapeutic recreation and wants to someday help children who are battling cancer. And that is where Greg's story leaves off, at least until his next competition. It didn't end when he was 17, and it won't end even with the conclusion of the 2008 Paralympic Games.

There will always be tomorrow. It wasn't until he was blind that Greg finally learned how to see. He may not have his eyesight, but Greg finally has a vision--of his future, of continued hope, of bringing home the gold.

Source Citation:"Greg DeWall, Paralympic Judo.(USABA)." Palaestra 24.1 (Wntr 2008): 13(2). General OneFile. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 4 May 2009

Gale Document Number:A180517152

Disclaimer:This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.


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Len Wilson

United States Judo Association - USJA

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