|Today's date: Saturday May 18, 2013||Vol 46 Issue 20|
We Cover The County...
Throw down - Justin Karn gets set to throw training partner Andrey Solovyev to the mat at the Asahi Judo Club in Kitchener. Karn and fellow Fergus native Patrick Anderson, of the men’s wheelchair basketball team, will compete at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London starting next week. photo by Chris Daponte
From Fergus to London: Karn, Anderson lead Canadian team to Paralympic Games
by Chris Daponte
Justin Karn throws his training partner to the ground over and over again, sending thunderous echoes through an otherwise empty Asahi Judo Club.
For good measure the 31-year-old judoka incorporates some chokes and arm bars as sweat drips across his face.
It’s become a daily routine for Karn, a Fergus native now living in Kitchener, who has been training for over a decade for his shot to compete at the Paralympic Games.
“All that hard work is finally paying off,” said Karn, who departs for London, England on Aug. 24 and will compete on Aug. 30.
“To be able to finally represent my country in judo is amazing.”
The visually impaired athlete, who was born with a condition that makes it difficult to perceive depth, is ranked 12th in the world in the 60-kilogram division. But he has aspirations that far exceed his pre-games ranking.
“The goal is to win,” he said.
Fellow Paralympian and Fergus native Patrick Anderson is seeking the same result for the Canadian men’s wheelchair basketball team.
“There’s no reason why we can’t win a gold medal,” said Anderson. “I think we should win.”
Anderson, 33, will be moving into the village in London along with his teammates this weekend and the team plays its first game on Aug. 30 versus Japan.
Though he is widely regarded as the best wheelchair basketball player in the world, and one of the best to ever play the sport, Anderson’s presence in London wasn’t always a sure thing.
After the Canadian team won the silver medal in 2008 at the Beijing games, Anderson, who has been a member of the national team since 1997, took 18 months off to pursue other interests, including studying music at Hunter College in New York City.
But early last year, after realizing he still had a strong desire to compete at an elite level, Anderson returned to the team. Since that time he has been focused on regaining the gold medal in London.
“I just felt like I should be at these games to represent Canada,” Anderson said. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
He has hinted these could be his last Paralympic Games, though he added he has learned never to say “never.”
Current coach Jerry Tonello has compared Anderson to American swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, who may not have the desire to come back in 2016, but has the “innate talent” to compete if he decided to return.
“Pat is at that level,” Tonello said. “He’s one of the best players in the world.”
Anderson was born Edmonton and grew up in Fergus, where, like Karn, many of his relatives still reside. Anderson enjoyed playing a number of sports as a child, including hockey. In 1989, at the age of 9, he was struck by a drunk driver and lost both of his legs above the knee.
He discovered wheelchair basketball in 1990, making it to the national team just seven years later.
His talent, height and speed helped him lead the Canadian team to Paralympic gold medals in 2000 and 2004 - he has averaged almost 21 points per game over three Paralympic Games - as well as the world championship in 2006.
He has earned myriad personal honours on the court over the years, including MVP awards at national championships and also in professional leagues in Europe and Australia.
“He’s a quiet leader,” Tonello said of Anderson. “He likes to lead by example on the court.”
Karn also prefers to let his performance do the talking. He jokes that he was left little choice by the other two competitors on the Canadian Paralympic judo squad, who nominated him to serve as their collective voice in the media leading up to the London games.
But both Anderson and Karn realize that helping promote their sports is part of being a Paralympian.
“We’re not just athletes. We’re all doing our part to help grow the program,” Karn said.
But his work for the Paralympic team, and in particular its judoka, can also have its personal rewards. Increased publicity and better results ultimately could lead to more funding so he can dedicate more time to training.
A coach and trainer at the Asahi Judo Club, Karn has also cleaned the club to earn some extra cash to fund trips to train or compete in tournaments.
Karn’s road to the Paralympics, arguably a bit longer and rougher than Anderson’s, may have had as much of an influence on his new nickname - “the badger’ - as his fighting style.
The Canadian Paralympic Committee and CTV came up with the handle as part of the Super Athletes commercial series airing on CTV.
“It’s a scruffy animal that likes to defend itself,” Karn said of the badger. “It’s tough ... and it will take on anything.”
Karn was born in Guelph with aniridia, an eye condition that left him without irises. He also has astigmatism in both eyes and damaged corneas.
Regardless, growing up in Fergus he enjoyed a number of sports, most notably judo and swimming. At age 17 he moved to Brantford and later to Kitchener.
He had aspirations of reaching the Paralympics via the pool, but after graduating high school, he decided to dedicate himself to judo.
“It kind of came down to a very easy decision,” Karn said.
Several people suggested he concentrate on judo and then judo officials said they would help cover competition costs if he did just that.
“I definitely love judo,” said Karn. “I still miss swimming, but it just seems judo is a better fit for me.”
Over the last decade, Karn has made a slow ascent to the top of his sport, despite several speed bumps along the way, including failing to qualify for the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Games. But, much like the badger, he fought back and persevered to win bronze at the Para Pan American Games in Guadalajara last fall. In 2010, he was named the Pan American champion.
A month ago, Karn competed in the Canadian Judo Championships against sighted opponents, eventually claiming the silver medal in the master’s 66-kilogram division.
“It gave me some confidence,” said Karn.
He added he did not fare as well as he wanted to, but that was difficult considering he was concentrating more on different techniques and strategies than the overall result.
“We kind of used it as a training venue,” he said.
Karn then spent two weeks in Montreal to further prepare and has put in his final preparation and training at his home club in Kitchener.
“He’s ready,” said training partner and friend Andrey Solovyev. “He’s earned this [opportunity].”
Karn is thankful for the support of Solovyev, as well as his family and friends, his judo club, fellow trainees and coaches, including Mark Burgess, John Batten and Paralympic judo coach Tom Thomson.
“I wouldn’t get anywhere without a good support team,” he said.
Following the Canadian athletes competing in the Olympic Games in London - particularly the judoka, several of whom he has met - has motivated Karn to succeed in his first Paralympics.
“I really want to do well,” said Karn. “I’m very proud to represent Canada.”
Anderson echoed that sentiment and said while in London he will be thinking about everyone who helped him reach the pinnacle of his sport.
“What I think about is my family and friends and the basketball community in Canada,” said Anderson.
He noted a moment or two will be set aside to remember the contribution of Larry Galbraith, who died suddenly last year at age 60 during a wheelchair basketball tournament. The well known Fergus resident, who was also a longtime minor lacrosse volunteer, drove Anderson to many practices and events over the years.
“He was always a big supporter,” said Anderson. “He’s a perfect example of the type of people I’ll be thinking of when representing Canada.”
Anderson was married last year and now resides in Brooklyn, New York, though he tries to visit family and friends in Fergus as much as possible.
He says the men’s wheelchair basketball team has stumbled a bit over the last two years, including a disappointing loss to Columbia last year, but over the last few months the team has “turned a corner.”
In that time the Canadians have beaten the teams Anderson expects will be its toughest competition in London, including Great Britain, Australia and the U.S.
The team was in the Netherlands from Aug. 14 to 19 for a tune-up tournament and Anderson said the team is gaining confidence and improving at executing at top speed - both important factors if the Canadians hope to bring back gold.
He also watched a bit of the Olympic Games earlier this month and is anxious to compete himself, noting he has been looking forward to London for the past 18 months.
“I’m really proud to represent the basketball community in Canada,” Anderson said.
To follow Karn, Anderson and the rest of Canada’s Paralympians, visit www.london2012.com/paralympics/sports.
August 24, 2012
The Wellington Advertiser
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