For the first time this year, the spectators coming to the Open National Championship in Calgary will also be seeing athletes with a visual impairment in action as part of the IBSA Pan American Championships. Around 50 athletes from all Americas will be fighting to become continental champions. Priscilla Gagné, who will be representing Canada, is very excited about these two events being paired. “It’ll be the first time my teammates will see me in action during an important competition. We train together all the time, but our competitions are never at the same place. I’m really excited about experiencing the atmosphere of having my team around me!”
Priscilla Gagné started training in judo in 2009. When she started, her family members didn’t all agree with her decision. Her father and her brother were encouraging her to step out of her comfort zone, while her mother was worried about her choice of a combat sport. The athlete has retinitis pigmentosa, a visual impairment affecting her central vision. She was born with it, but she only received a diagnosis when she was 24 years old. That didn’t keep her from wrestling in high school and be a member of the national goalball team, a sport for blind and visually impaired athletes. Her beginnings in judo were modest, but in the last few years, she started making waves on the international scene and she is putting all her energy in training. She even moved to Montreal to train at the national training centre, located in the Olympic stadium. Outside of training, judo has helped her a lot. Her balance has improved tremendously, and she developed better reflexes, which help her avoid injuries.
Even though her goal is to win a gold medal during the Pan American Championships in May, Priscilla tries not to put too much pressure on herself. “You can’t predict judo; a split second can change everything. I’m aiming for gold every time I step on the mat, but I’m aware that it’s not always possible,” she explained. In addition, some up-and-coming athletes will also be in Calgary. They are young and people don’t know them yet, which makes them unpredictable.
After Pan Ams, the judoka will start her preparation for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Her result in Calgary will be very important, because it could help her have a better world ranking and improve her chances of being qualified in 2020. After Tokyo, she doesn’t plan on retiring yet, but Priscilla would like to be more involved in recruiting new athletes. “For the last few months, there has been an in-school judo program for students with visual impairment in Montreal. I enjoy working with them, and I’d like to do more. It’s my way of giving back to my sport.”
Written by Sarah Mailhot for Judo Canada
Chief Operating Officer