Legally blind, and competing in the Paralympics

2012 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls Kayla Harrison and Myles Porter sign autographs on April 17, 2012 at the NBC Experience Store in New York City.

Myles Porter (left) and Team Judo staffer Ed Liddie arrive in London.

The city of London threw another big party today to kick off the Paralympics. It's a chance for athletes with a wide range of physical disabilities to show off their athleticism in sports like track & field, cycling, table tennis, and Judo.

Myles Porter is on the American judo team. He's 27 years old and he's legally blind. For Myles, that means he can see shapes from about 10 yards away, but he can't recognize faces from that distance.

So how does a legally blind young man find himself competing in judo? It was a bit of a fluke. He dropped chemistry in college and found himself one credit short. A friend suggested judo.

Six years later, he's now in London vying for the gold.

But with fewer eyes watching the Paralympics -- at least in the United States -- we wondered what that means for potential endorsement deals. Myles says the Paralympics has gained some big corporate sponsors in recent years. "The Paralympics is the second biggest sporting event in the world, behind the Olympics. The Paralympics is even bigger than the World Cup of soccer. That's pretty cool if you think about it."

Myles and his teammates compete on Saturday, Sept. 1.

Kai Ryssdal: London threw another big sports-related party today: The Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Paralympic Games. Athletes with a wide range of physical disabilities compete in everything from track & field, cycling, table tennis and judo.

Myles Porter is on the American judo team. He's 27 years old, legally blind. He can see shapes from about 10 yards away, he says.

Myles, thanks for joining us.

Myles Porter: Thank you for having me, I definitely appreciate it.

Ryssdal: So how does judo work when you're visually impaired? There must be some challenges?

Porter: Yeah, there definitely is. I fight on the sighted side of judo, as well as the Paralympics side, and the good thing about judo is, the only adaption is you start with the grip and if you break, the referees just lock you back up again and you start the match.

Ryssdal: A ha, so it's not something coming out the blue that's going to kick you in the ribs.

Porter: No, not too much. And the good thing is, with judo, it's like the Japanese version of wrestling, so we do all the throws, so we're really pretty much always touching.

Ryssdal: Does it feel a little bit that the Paralympics are forgotten sometimes?

Porter: Sometimes, I think because a lot of people don't realize or they classify it maybe closer to a Special Olympics, because that's well-branded in the U.S.

Ryssdal: Does that take away the opportunities you might have after your career, after the Games, to get endorsement deals and sort of capitalize in that way?

Porter: The Paralympics is still the second biggest sporting event in the world behind the Olympics. Even the World Cup of soccer is smaller than the Paralympics, which is kind of cool if you think about how big that is.

Ryssdal: That is cool. Yeah, that's crazy. I didn't know that.

Porter: Coca-Cola's picked up on the Paralympics these past four years. BP has more Paralympic athletes in their sponsorship deals than they do Olympic athletes. United has a few. So if you take those, those are huge companies that have Paralympic athletes as a face of their corporations.

Ryssdal: This is a little bit materialistic, but do you guys talk about this, you the athletes?

Porter: Not so much because we're just so grateful we're here. I remember in 2007, I was having a bad day, I was complaining, I was young, I didn't want to train, this and that. And our coach threw us in the pool, just to give us some different kind of workout. And I'm 225 pounds -- I swim like a rock. So I'm struggling. Here's a guy that comes in with no arms and no legs and lapped me three times. I didn't complain the whole rest of that trip.

Ryssdal: You said you fight on the sighted side of judo as well?

Porter: Yeah, I do able-bodied judo as well, yes sir.

Ryssdal: And you're not at a disadvantage?

Porter: I am -- being blind is a big disadvantage.

Ryssdal: You know what this makes me think of, is Oscar Pistorius, the South African runner who has artificial legs.

Porter: Yes sir, that's a good friend of mine.

Ryssdal: Oh is that right? You know Oscar?

Porter: Yeah, I know him very well. I've known him since 2008.

Ryssdal: Now, how is that he gets to do able-bodied Olympics, but you don't?

Porter: I do. Ninety-nine percent of my tournaments are against able-bodied athletes. Right now, I'm ranked number two in the country, behind the guy that actually made the regular Olympic teams. Hopefully if I keep the points, I'll be going to the world championships; I'll be the first visually impaired person in the world in the history of judo to go.

Ryssdal: What's your competition schedule? When's your first match?

Porter: With judo, we fight everything in one day. In my weight class, I fight Sept. 1. We go in at 6 in the morning, tournament starts at 11, and finals hopefully from there start at 4 o'clock. So I'll find out if I have a medal that day.

Ryssdal: That's crazy man -- four years into one day. Like 18 hours.

Porter: Yes sir.

Ryssdal: Myles Porter. He is a legally blind Paralympic. He's a judo athlete. All right man, good luck.

Porter: Thank you very much.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

Myles Porter (left) and Team Judo staffer Ed Liddie arrive in London.

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