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Jordan Ercit photo

Jordan Ercit photo

Judoka Justin Karn is one of seven Waterloo Region athletes heading to London for the Paralympic Games, which begin Aug. 29.

Going for gold

By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff

Justin Karn is still getting used to all this attention.

The interviews, the promotional videos, the interest in Canada’s Paralympic athletes — it can get a little unnerving at times for the Kitchener resident.

“I wasn’t crazy about that stuff at first,” said the 31-year-old Karn, who is featured as The Badger as one of 16 Canadian Super Athletes on the Canadian Paralympic Committee website.

“But the more I did it, the more I realized that it’s good for the Paralympic movement to get this attention and that there could be more opportunities in the future for our sport.”

Karn, a local judoka at the Asahi Judo Club, is one of several local athletes heading to the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, England, which start next week.

The reigning Para Pan-American Games bronze-medallist in the 60-kilogram division is one of two local judokas heading there, along with Waterloo’s Tim Rees, who now makes Victoria, B.C., his home.

The men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams also have a large local contingent heading to the Games, including Twin City Spinners products Tyler Miller of Kitchener and Katie Harnock of Elmira.

Brandon Wagner, a Kitchener-born wheelchair basketball player who lives in Burlington, will join Miller on the men’s team as well.

Meanwhile, Mannheim’s Leah Robinson, a former Rockway Mennonite student, is a contender in the women’s sprint events.

Miller, a 28-year-old Grand River Collegiate grad, is already overseas after the Canadian wheelchair basketball team left last Wednesday for Belgium to compete in a pre-Games tournament in the Netherlands.

After taking up the sport in 2007, he expects the opening ceremonies to be an emotional experience.

After a workplace accident left him a parapalegic, Miller suffered from a deep depression and isolated himself from the world.

That was until his close friend, Matt Kennedy, dragged him out to play wheelchair basketball.

The connection was instantaneous.

“It was like an old friend you could just kind of call up,” Miller said. “It made me feel like, ‘Hey, I’ve got skills, I can catch the ball, I can do this and I can do that.’”

Miller got his start with the Tri City Spinners program and from there went on to stints with the provincial and national teams in 2009 and 2010.

In 2011, he helped Team Canada to a bronze medal at the Para Pan American Games in Guadelajara, Mexico.

Now he gets to compete in London at the highest level of his sport.

“For me, this is a big turning point after all I’ve been through with my accident and all the rest,” Miller said.

“I think after you first get hurt, you start at the bottom, in a low place, and you don’t know where to go from there. And now to be able to go from that really low place to this peak for anybody — able-bodied or disabled — is a big thing. I think this is the climax of my journey.”

Likewise for Karn, who was second at Judo Canada nationals in the masters men’s (over-30) division earlier this year for able-bodied athletes and has been climbing the ranks at the Paralympic level, reaching 12th in the world.

Now Karn — who is visually impaired after being born with aniridia, an eye condition that left him without irises — heads to London with sparring partner Andrey Solovyev, feeling both nervous and excited for his first shot at a Paralympic medal.

He has just one day to try and make everything click, Aug. 30. If everything goes well, he’ll need to win four bouts within 24 hours to win gold.

Just the fact that he’s heading there, though, is “huge.”

“It’s pretty major. It’s phenomenal and it’s an honour to represent all of Canada,” he said.

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