For a blind athlete, judo champion Jordan Mouton sure has no problem envisioning her future. Down the road, she’d love nothing more than to teach the sport she excels in, paying forward her hand-to-hand wherewithal to the sight-impaired martial artists of tomorrow.
First things first, though: The 23-year-old is laser-focused on the Summer Paralympics, which begin in London on August 29.
“Judo gave me something to push for and work hard for...it showed me that I don’t have limitations just because I can’t see anymore,” says Mouton.
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The Houstonian lost her sight at the age of 12, when she developed rod-cone dystrophy, a disease that causes the deterioration of cone and rod cells, the photoreceptors in our eyes that help us perceive color and vision.
The diagnosis forced to quit her first-loved sport, soccer. As heartbreaking as that moment was, it led her to enroll at a sports camp for the blind, where she discovered judo, a martial art created in Japan that requires full contact—helpful for an athlete missing her sight.
“To me, judo is more than just a sport,” says Mouton. “It’s a lifestyle.”
Mouton took to the sport quickly, placing fifth at the International Blind Sports Association Championships in 2007 in the 57-kilogram class. Since then, she's racked up a number of accomplishments, including representing the U.S. at the 2008 Summer Paralympic Games in Beijing, China. When the U.S. did not qualify for an athlete to compete in the 57-kilogram division, Mouton gained 25 pounds and jumped up to the 70-kilogram class to make it to Beijing.
In the run-up to the London Paralympics, Mouton is the focus of a new six-part series form TakePart TV, Blind Judoka. In a separate interview, TakePart caught up with Mouton to discuss her sport, her future, and any words of wisdom she might have for sight-impaired athletes.
TakePart: Can you walk me through how you lost your sight?
Jordan Mouton: When I was eight years old, I noticed that I wasn’t seeing things as well as before, so we went to the doctor and they diagnosed me with a disease called rod-cone dystrophy. It didn’t really affect me until the age of 12, and then from that age, [my sight] started to slowly decrease until about the age of 19, when I went completely blind.
TakePart: Why is judo tailor-made for blind athletes?
Jordan Mouton: Because you don’t have to see to be able to do it. It’s a contact sport, so you’re pretty much always gripping and grabbing your opponent. You can always feel where their body is and you can feel their movements and react off of their movements. A lot of coaches actually blindfold their players.
TakePart: What has judo given you that your sight loss took away?
Jordan Mouton: Judo gave me back a lot of the confidence I had lost along with my sight. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and, I guess, purpose and drive. Judo gave me something to push for and work hard for and you know, it showed me that I don’t have limitations just because I can’t see anymore.
TakePart: Anyone can Google you and find a video of you fighting in the dark, but I’m curious about how one lives in the dark. In other words, what’s life like off the mat when you’re not training or fighting?
Jordan Mouton: Off the mat, I’m a pretty laid-back person. I kind of just go with the flow, take things as they come. I have a lot of things to work through not being able to see, you know, using technology and getting to where I need to go. A lot of people are very surprised when they find out I do judo because I’m so laid-back.
TakePart: How long do you expect to practice judo and what’s life going to be like when you’re done?
Jordan Mouton: I expect to practice judo until I can’t walk anymore. I’m not going to do it at this level, obviously, because I need to get on with my life at some point, but I do always want it to be a part of my life, whether I’m doing it or coaching.
TakePart: Is coaching something you think you might want to segue into?
Jordan Mouton: Definitely one day. Not any time soon, but I would like to at least, you know, try to start a program for other visually impaired children to get them started in judo because it helps me so much. And that would be a really rewarding thing, to be able to help them. Judo is kind of my identity right now, so after, it’s going to take a little bit of adjusting to the real world.
TakePart: What will it mean to medal in the games?
Jordan Mouton: It would mean the world to me to medal. Of course, I would be...it would be a surreal and out-of-this-world happiness to win the gold. Any medal would be nice, but the gold medal would obviously just be amazing, and it would mean a lot to me not just for myself, but it would show everybody that everything they’ve done for me and all the help they’ve given me has been worth it and has paid off—in the best way possible.
TakePart: What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone who has a disability and thinks, “I can’t play a sport at that level,” or “I can’t do it, so why should I try?”
Jordan Mouton: Don’t listen to the negative voices telling you that you can’t do it because I’m living proof that you can. I used to be able to see and I lost my sight, and I still figured out how to get it done. And there are going to be a lot of people along the way telling you can’t, but you’ve got to prove it to them that you can because it is possible: You just have to watch the Paralympics to believe because there are blind people, there are people in wheelchairs. There are people with no legs, no arms, doing these sports and doing them very well.
Got any thoughts you’d like to share with Mouton before the Paralympics begin? Let us know in the comments.
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An Angelino by way of Wilkes-Barre, PA, Sal holds a Political Science degree from George Washington University. Though he began his career in sports, he's written about all things environment since 2007. @SalCardoni | Email Sal | TakePart.com