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Recreation / Ralph Nichols : Thomas Earns Belt in Judo Sight Unseen

July 21, 1988|Ralph Nichols

Robin Otte whispers instructions into Tina Thomas' ear as Neil Ohlenkamp demonstrates how to grab the jacket of an adversary.

Ohlenkamp doesn't usually tolerate talking in his advanced judo class, but he makes an exception for Thomas.

Thomas, 19, of Panorama City, has earned a second-degree brown belt in judo without ever seeing Ohlenkamp demonstrate a forward roll. Blind since birth, the petite teen-ager learns how to flip an opponent or fall without being hurt through a series of verbal commands and practice.

"Students like Tina show that blindness does not stop them from being true athletes," Ohlenkamp said. "Judo is one sport that blind athletes can really participate on an equal level or close to it because there are so many verbal commands."

Neither blindness nor a shoulder injury could stop Thomas from winning the 98-106-pound weight division in the Blind Athletes National Championships in Indianapolis, Ind., last month.

Despite pulling tendons in her shoulder during the championship match, Thomas completed a foot sweep against her opponent to clinch the victory.

Thomas, 5 foot, 105 pounds, was forced to compete against an opponent 30 pounds heavier because there were no opponents in her weight division.

"That's what happens when you're small, you have to work against people heavier than you," Thomas said.

The two-time gold medalist has taken judo lessons for eight years. Despite her blindness, Thomas has always been able to keep up with her instructors, called sensei.

"All I need is for the sensei to be verbal," Thomas said. "If I don't understand something, they'll show me how to do it."

Add judo: Ohlenkamp, 34, of Northridge, teaches other blind athletes through his Encino Judo Club, and in classes at the Braille Institute Youth Center in Hollywood.

He will also coach judo at the Paralympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, this summer.

More than 450 disabled athletes, including 75 from the U. S. Assn. for Blind Athletes, will compete during October in the Paralympic Games, an international competition for disabled athletes.

Thomas, however, is ineligible to compete in South Korea because the judo competition is restricted to men.

Solo Val: Joey Jenkins of North Hollywood was the top amateur in the Budweiser Pro-Am surfing tournament at Surfrider Beach in Malibu last weekend.

Jenkins, who placed 17th overall, was the only Valley-area surfer to finish in the top 20.

Learn the ropes: The Wilderness Institute of Woodland Hills will stage an adventure ropes course and independence training class Wednesday in the Santa Monica Mountains and a beginning rock-climbing class at Stoney Point on July 31.

Students will learn rope-climbing skills and problem-solving techniques in the adventure ropes course.

In the beginning rock-climbing class, students learn the rudiments of how to rig safety equipment and the correct procedure to ascend a mountain.

Information: 818-887-7831.

Taking a stab: Spenser Thompson, a former Harvard High student, placed first in the 19-and-under division at the United States National Fencing Championships in Chicago last month.

Thompson, 18, is a sophomore on the University of Pennsylvania fencing team. He compiled a 16-11 record as a freshman.

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