Tim Rees considers himself a pretty regular guy — a husband to his wife, Aya, and a father to their two sons, one four years old and another 18 months.
This summer, however, when Rees laces up his judo gi and steps foot on the mat at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, that regularity will fade. He’ll be competing among the top visually-impaired judo athletes in the world.
Rees, 31, is a former member of the Williams Lake Blue Fins and spent most of his childhood in Williams Lake. His family moved to Williams Lake when he was six years old where his parents, Walter and Kathy, still live.
Currently ranked eighth in the world in judo, Rees said his first experience with martial arts came as a teenager in Williams Lake.
“I played soccer, did swimming and also downhill skiing,” Rees said. “In my mid teens, around 15, there was a jiu jitsu club in Williams Lake that I joined and that was my first go with grappling.”
Following his graduation from Columneetza secondary Rees moved on to the University of British Columbia where he completed an undergraduate degree in engineering physics and a masters degree in computer science.
“When I moved to university I did another martial art called Sambo, and then in my second year of university I started judo in 1999,” he said.
All the while, however, Rees was battling a condition called Stargardt disease — an inherited macular degeneration that causes progressive vision loss in youth.
Rees explained he’s not completely blind and does have some peripheral vision, and can also read through the use of a magnification device.
“My eyesight has been deteriorating noticeably since my late teens,” he said. “By around late 2003 I was declared legally blind, but I’d already given up driving a car before then.”
Rees said instead of getting down on himself, he started to push harder.
He went on to complete a PhD in applied mathematics at the University of Waterloo, and began setting goals to compete for Canada’s Paralympic judo team.
Rees now works at the University of Victoria’s School of Earth and Sciences studying atmospheric processes, particularly waves and turbulence in the lower atmosphere.
“I wasn’t as disappointed as some people might think,” he said. “I knew my eyesight was bad, so it wasn’t a giant shock. I knew it was getting worse … It’s not such a huge deal — there’s certainly worse things that can happen to you and I’ve stayed positive.
“Judo is a sport where having bad eyes is not that big of a problem,” he said, and noted the sport consists of mostly grappling, throwing and submission.
“The competition for the visually impaired and the able bodied are almost identical. The only difference is how they start — where we start in a grip position.
“It’s quite a good sport. As long as the people who I’m working out with are aware of it there’s no real extra danger and I’m not at too much of a disadvantage.”
To earn his spot on the Canadian judo team Rees finished seventh at the 2010 world championships, fifth at the 2011 world championships and third at the Pan Am Games in Mexico in November.
He currently trains at the Victoria Judo Club three to four times a week with one or two sessions focusing on technique and the others focusing on combat.
Rees will compete in the 100-kilogram weight class at the Games.
“It’s exciting to get to go there [to the Games] and I’m looking forward to it,” Rees said.
“I think I can win a medal and I hope I can meet my expectations. I’m honoured to get the chance to do it.
“I’m pretty patriotic and I like this country so I’m happy to wear a Canadian jacket and hopefully bring home a medal for Canada.”