Should Michelle Jorgensen find an obstacle in her path, she will find a way to overcome it. Now in her third year as a judoka, the British Columbian excels in several sports and is carving out her own story, while also inspiring the next generation of athletes.
Born with a total visual impairment, Jorgensen has always been interested in sports, but it wasn’t until she was 23 years old that she was finally able to discover her passion and pursue it fully and—most importantly—without constraint.
“I come from a small town where everyone told me I couldn’t play sports because I was blind, and that they wouldn’t be able to teach me how,” said Jorgensen, who has always believed in herself, despite the obstacles she has faced.
“When I went to university, I took a self-defence course and fell in love with the sport, so I started working out several times a day, practicing several different disciplines. I ended up arranging my class schedule around the schedules of the gyms I trained at,” she laughed.
Michelle Jorgensen with the white judogi with (left to right) Andrzej Sadej, Priscilla Gagné, Ami Yamasaki and Justin Karn.
Five years later, the young woman has proven that it is possible to achieve one’s wildest dreams, and even more, regardless of disability. The University of British Columbia graduate now works for the BC provincial government, in addition to pursuing numerous sports.
Her talent and determination have enabled her to obtain blue belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo. The active young woman also practices Muay-Thai (also known as Thai boxing), pole dancing, aerial fitness, and Zumba in a continual quest to test her own limits.
“It’s pretty intense! I get up at 5:30 every weekday morning and train for at least three hours a day, from Monday to Friday, in addition to working full-time. I consider Saturdays and Sundays my rest days because I only do one workout on each of those days,” she added, with a touch of irony in her voice.
A role model for all
With her bubbly personality and iron will, and through the development of her physical, psychological, and social skills, she pushes herself to excel, day in and day out. Her success in sports also serves as an inspiration for a younger generation of athletes.
“After my first judo competition, I received messages from parents of blind children, who had heard of what I had done and were over the moon about it. There are also a few young girls who train at the same place I do, including little Jordan, who sees me as a role model. It feels a bit strange, but it’s very cool to know that they look up to me.”
Judo BC’s Sport Development Director and Head Coach Jeremy Le Bris remarked that Jorgensen never hesitates to help others. “She’s very involved in the judo community. She always offers to help others improve. She’s even taking the coaching certification course, which she should complete in the next few months. She has a positive impact on everyone around her.”
In addition, Jorgensen has organized fundraising events and encourages people to do good deeds rather than support her financially for her competitions—another example of her selflessness. “When I was little, I often had to go to the hospital with my parents. Since I started competing, I’ve gotten involved in fundraising for different causes. Most recently, with the pandemic, I encouraged people to give blood. It doesn’t cost a thing and it can save lives. I don’t need money. I have a good job, I live comfortably, and I’m happy with my lifestyle,” she explained.
Brimming with ambition
After beginning her judo training in September 2018, Jorgensen performed well at her first two career tournaments. She was crowned champion in the under-70 kg category at the Montréal Pan American Championships in 2019 and finished fifth at the Warwick Grand Prix this past June.
Her medium-term goals are to continue learning the rules and regulations of her “new” sport and to keep working toward her black belt, which she hopes to earn someday. To get there, she will rely on her multidisciplinary training, an important asset that allows her to stand out against any rival.
“I’m focused on judo, but I’m also focused on all my other sports. They all help me with my judo, especially jiu-jitsu. It’s made me more powerful on the floor, to the point that my coach doesn’t want to fight me anymore,” joked Jorgensen, who trains at the Kelowna Judo Club.
Andrzej Sadej, head coach of the Canadian Parajudo team, is obviously thrilled to have a rookie of the British Columbian’s calibre. “Michelle brings a lot of personality to the Paralympic program. Tough go-getter as she wants to be seen, she is in fact a very sensitive and smart sweetheart which I learn about her during our few encounters. I am looking forward to the next few years to assist in her judo career.”
Jorgensen now has her sights set on the Paris Paralympic Games, where she would love to represent her country, like her compatriot Priscilla Gagné. “She’s amazing! I was with her during her competitions, and she gives off great energy. She gave it her all in Tokyo, despite her injuries. I hope to qualify for the Games, too, while also helping my teammates get there. I’ve had a lot of help along the way, so if I can contribute in some way too, I’d love to.”
One thing is certain, Jorgensen is proving that all those who didn’t believe in her were wrong. “I was told I couldn’t learn to swim, that I could never play the piano, because I was blind. Now I play several sports and I’ve gotten so good that my training partners have to be constantly on their guard. Turns out that the problem wasn’t me,” she concluded.
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