A judo player from the Borders has received his green belt despite being completely blind when his grading took place, writes Fiona Scott.
Now, with only very slight vision restored, Billy Walker from Earlston is hoping to make it through further gradings with a little help from his friends.
Focus Judo Club member Billy has suffered from degenerative myopia, a progressive eye disease that has led to his severe visual impairment, since birth.
Late last year things got a lot worse for the 41-year-old however when a freak accident at a Judo camp dislodged his corrective lens and left him completely blind.
Nevertheless Billy continued to play and managed to complete his green belt grading. Taking up the story he told TheSouthern: “The accident was just that, a total freak incident. It happened in the last four minutes of a judo camp I was taking part in. I was flipping somebody over and their elbow caught me in the eye and dislodged the lens. I knew straight away what had happened.”
Anxiety about going for an operation to replace the lens however was by far outweighed by the fear of not being able to play again.
“It was the first thing I asked the doctor when I came round,” continued Billy.
“When I was told that I should be able to start up again in six to eight weeks I was elated.”
A former pupil of the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh Billy dabbled in judo when he was younger, as well as trying out cycling (much against parental advice), football and latterly tandem riding. As his eye condition worsened however Billy’s sporting options were narrowed down and he decided to give judo another go, further inspired by partially sighted Olympic Silver medallist Sam Ingram. After getting in touch with Border Sport and Leisure’s Disability Sports Officer Alan Oliver who pointed him in the direction of the Galashiels-based Focus Judo Club. The rest, as they say, is history.
“When I first joined the club I didn’t even think I would make the red belt never mind anything else,” added Billy.
“I certainly didn’t set out looking for a black belt and if I couldn’t come back I would be more than happy with what I have achieved.
“Thankfully I am able to continue though so I will take each grading as it comes and just see how far I can get.”
One thing is for sure, Billy is adamant that he would not have got as far as he has without the help of all at Focus Judo.
“The coaches and students have been brilliant,” he said.
“Everyone just pulls together there. When the coaches are demonstrating moves someone is always on hand to tell me what is going on and I can usually pick it up from that.
“Some people do want to wrap me up in cotton wool a bit because of my disability but they shouldn’t. I’m not made of glass.”
Unbeknownst to unassuming Billy however the people at the club hold him in just as high regard. Focus coach Lee Allan told us: “I’ve been right up through the grading syllabus myself and I can’t imagine what it would be like to do it without any visual aid.
“Billy is a very humble and reserved individual, he is a massive inspiration to everyone at the club and we’re all delighted that he has made a return to the mat.”
Billy would like to thank Focus coaches Tom Hardy, Lee Allan, James Hunt and Stuart Gordon, his fellow students as well as his girlfriend and chauffeur Sandra McLeod, for their help throughout.