Story by Eric Atherton
Ricky Ties, 32, figured that his competitive years were behind him.
He had a great wrestling career as a Mayo Spartan, twice qualifying for state, and he wrestled for RCTC. But injuries brought his college athletic career to a quiet end a decade ago, and of late he's settled in as a fourth-year assistant wrestling coach at RCTC.
But a few months ago, life took an unexpected turn.
"USA Judo has had some success with wrestlers who switched over to judo, so they put out some feelers, looking for ex-wrestlers," Ties said Wednesday at RCTC's wrestling room. But not just any wrestlers — USA Judo was looking for visually impaired athletes who could potentially compete for in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Ties was born with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that has resulted in night blindness, extreme tunnel vision, retinal detachments and other problems. He's never been able to read normal-sized type in books or on a computer screen. "My condition was fairly stable until I was about 27, but my vision has gone downhill a bit since then," he said. "I've had some surgeries and lost some vision."
He contacted USA Judo last fall, and shortly after they heard his story, he found himself on a plane to the training facility in Denver. Since October, his life has been a whirlwind of training and travel.
"My first tournament, the President's Cup in Dallas, had a visually impaired division, and I won that," he said. "I beat a couple guys who have been doing it for a long time. Then last weekend I was in Milwaukee and went 2-2 down there."
Ties faces a steep learning curve, as judo differs greatly from wrestling.
"You can't touch the legs with your hands from the standing position," he said. "If you reach out and touch anything below the belt with your hands while you're standing up, it's not just a penalty or some lost points — the match is over. So that's a habit that you have to break."
Getting after it again
His competitive fire has returned quickly. "It's just you and the other guy out there, and there's a chance you're going to look like an idiot," he said. "That's a good reason to get up early for a run, to do another lap or two at the end or push a bit harder when you're lifting."
Ties has compiled a 6-4 record so far, and most of his matches have been against competitors who aren't visually impaired. Later this month he'll travel to Budapest, Hungary, for his first Paralympic qualifying event, and if all goes as planned, this year Ties will compete in Germany, Brazil, Korea and Toronto. In his weight class, only a dozen or so visually impaired competitors from around the world will be invited to the Paralympics, so Ties and his USA Judo teammates must perform well in these international preliminaries to earn a spot in Rio.
"In my mind, I'm on a five-year plan," Ties said. "I hope to make it to Rio, and I think I'm good enough to make it to Rio. But if I don't — or even if I do — then the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo are a goal, too."
Ties has plenty of people who support him, and he was eager to thank everyone who is helping him pursue his dream — especially his older brother, Adam, who will be in his corner at every opportunity.
"Adam is going to make as many of the international trips as he can," Ties said. "We're very close, and he's a sharp guy. Traveling in unfamiliar cities with a vision disorder isn't easy, so it's nice to have someone looking out for you."
Ties is still looking for a good local sparring partner, but so far, Adam has been reluctant to get onto the mat with his little brother. "He's in good shape, but Adam was a basketball player, not a wrestler," Ties said.
- Adam Ties
- JIM BACKUS
- Dave Morrell
- kathy molitor
- Luke Ties
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