Water will be low, snacks will be lite, legs will be tired, but Peter and Janos Kabai’s sense of purpose when biking on the Alaska Highway-one filled with narrow and sometimes unpaved roads, traveled by big trucks- will be plenty, especially when they remember why they’re doing it.
“If you want to prove to people that it’s possible, then you have to try,” said Peter. “If you don’t try, then you’ll never be able to prove you can do it.”
Proving that blind people can do judo is why the Kabai brothers decided to take part in a 3800 mile bike ride from Prudhoe Bay Alaska to San Francisco bay this summer. They plan to raise awareness of the Blind Judo Foundation, a non-profit that helps train blind people in the competitive sport of Judo.
Ron Peck co-founded the Blind Judo Foundation in 2004 when returning to the United States after being a global Managing Director for a number of Fortune 500 companies. Just as he was looking to start a charity that would have a lasting impact, he ran into renowned Judo instructor Willy Cahill in a gym one day. Cahill told Peck about his training of blind judo athletes and how he trains and coaches for the Paralympics.
Since that point, Peck’s mission has been to help blind people gain confidence through the sport of judo, which he said will extend to all aspects of life.
“Judo is not about what color is your belt, as it is learning the tenets of Judo,” he said.
Using the principles of Judo as a philosophy, Peck and Coach Cahill hope to inspire a blind person to keep developing his or her inner strength and drive. He said that Judo’s teachings can help someone such as a recent blind veteran cope with their blindness and realize that being blind isn’t the end of the road; it can be an empowering obstacle.
“The common denominator is about building confidence, developing character, increasing ability, respect and responsibility,” Peck said.
A person who is blind or has low vision participates in judo by relying on touch. The sport of Judo is based on taking down your opponent, an outcome that is primarily centered on technique and skill. The only rule that is different for judo in the Paralympics is that both participants must keep contact at all times during the match.
Thirty-four-year-old Michael Larsen, who is blind and deaf, currently trains under Cahill with the hope of earning a spot on the 2016 U.S. Paralympic team. He has practiced Judo since he was eight, in order to channel his frustration from being picked on by all the kids in his class who’d make fun of his vision and hearing loss. He is furthering that goal by competing in the International German Judo Championships in Heidelberg Germany.
Larsen’s dream is why the Kabai brothers want to partake in the bike ride and why this isn’t their first go around with a long-distance ride. In 2012, the two brothers, who are judo athletes themselves, rode their bikes from New York City to San Francisco. Their dad, who practices Judo encouraged them to do it.
“People think we’re crazy,” said 20-year-old Peter, who is studying computer science at San Jose State University. “It was actually our dad’s idea. My mom’s okay with it now.”
One reason why she is okay with it now is because the boys will have GPS tracking devices on them as they travel in mid-June. They are also undergoing intense training so that they are physically able to take part in the ride.
The 2012 ride was featured in the media, but the brothers hope that this has a bigger impact this go around. When the thought of doing this ride popped into the mind of the brothers, they thought it over for a day.
“It was a no-brainer,” Peter said.
Using Judo as a tool for a blind person to become independent is a fairly new practice. This is one reason why Peck has been looking to expand the foundation’s influence around the U.S. and world. With a prominent Paralympic coach and people such as the Kabai family on their side, Peck sees that goal closer to being reached.
“We don’t really have a dollar amount that we’d like to raise,” Peck said. “The most important thing is that we raise enough funds to continue strengthening the lives of blind Judo athletes and help them pursue their goal of becoming a more independent person.”
When watching a blind person do Judo, Peter’s sense of determination is reinforced, his outlook on life is shaped and his purpose of pushing himself further to accomplish his own goals and dreams is mirrored in the sweat, discipline and dedication of the people he is watching on the mat.
“I give them credit for trying,” Peter said. “This bike ride is about that. I’m trying for them and myself.”
The following video is a trailer for a film titled “Blind Judoka,” which follows athlete Jordan Mouton’s training at the Blind Judo Foundation and her road to compete in the 2012 Paralympics in London.