Braille Monitor                                                     November 2007

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Martinez Aims at Para-Olympics

Lisamaria MartinezFrom the Editor: We first reported on the activities of Lisamaria Martinez when she was organizing elementary-school-age friends to fight litter. It was clear that this young woman was going places, but who would have thought then that one of her destinations was likely to be Beijing? On August 23, 2007, the Union City, California, Argus, Lisamaria’s hometown newspaper, carried a story about her efforts. When she isn’t preparing for the Para-Olympics, Lisamaria is the president of the NFB’s Sports and Recreation Division. She also teaches cane travel as an independent contractor in California. Here is the article:

Blind East Bay Athlete Aiming for Para-Olympics
Judo Champion Hopes to Represent U.S. in Beijing Games

by Matthew Artz

Lisamaria Martinez has chiseled calves, rock-solid quads, and practically no eyesight. She can make out the colors on her certificate for finishing second at the Para-Pan-American games in Rio de Janeiro this month, but can't read the words.

No bother, though. Martinez knows what they mean. Although she hasn't officially qualified, it seems certain she will represent the United States at the Para-Olympics next year in Beijing. "That would be a dream come true," said the twenty-six-year-old Union City resident.

Martinez went blind at age five, the result of a severe allergic reaction known as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. The illness could have killed her, but Martinez doesn't remember being particularly traumatized. "Honestly, I thought it was all part of growing up," she said.
Her parents refused to treat her any differently than her younger brother and sister—she still had to make her bed every morning—and Martinez was resolved to do as she pleased. She learned how to ski and rock climb as a girl, ran track in high school, and rowed at the University of California, Berkeley. At fifteen she had her first boyfriend, and at seventeen she placed third at the blind judo world championships.

Judo was her dad's idea. He wanted Martinez and her sister to be able to defend themselves. Fifteen years and countless strained muscles and bruises later, Martinez still is dishing out as much punishment as she takes. "I like it.” As far as martial arts go, judo is tailor-made for blind people because the combatants always maintain physical contact. There's lots of throwing, choking, pinning and armbars, but no punching, kicking or striking.

When Martinez battles blind competitors—who make up only about 5 percent of her opponents—they immediately lock up: gripping each other's lapel with one hand and sleeve with the other. "It's crazy if you're at a tournament," she said. "You can just feel the intensity coming from their arms."

When she's fighting, Martinez can visualize her moves. With her eyes she can get an idea of whether her opponent is taller or shorter, but not much else, she said. "I can't see her face, if she's giving me a dirty look." At five feet four inches tall and 151 pounds, Martinez is among the shorter women in the up-to-154-pound weight class. She works out nearly every day to maintain her weight.

When she isn't training, she's teaching. Not judo, though. Martinez earned a master's degree in educational psychology, specializing in teaching blind people to get around with a walking stick. She has a few students from the Lions Center for the Blind in Oakland, and she expects as much of them as her parents expected of her. "I want them to be as independent as they can be," Martinez said. "Being blind doesn't mean they should stay at home and wait for someone to take them by the arm and tell them when to go."

Next year Martinez plans to retire from judo, marry her fiancé, and teach full-time. But first things first. In addition to her silver medal at the Para-Pan-American games, Martinez placed fifth this month in the Blind Sport Federation Judo World Championships.

A fourth-place finish would have automatically qualified her for the Para-Olympics. She still is comfortably ahead of her nearest competitor for the lone American spot in the tournament but can't rule out the possibility that someone might come out of the woodwork at a major competition next April. "I've been training hard for my spot, and I intend to keep it," she said.

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