Tony Walby has grown up with Takahashi Dojo since age 7 and will now make his Paralympic debut at 39. Photo: Dan Plouffe
Name: Tony Walby
Weight class: 100 kg+
Classification: B2 (visual impairment)
Age: 39 (on Aug. 22)
Associations: Takahashi Dojo
Previous Paralympics: None
By Keeton Wilcock
Tony Walby’s long and accolade-filled career in the sport of judo will have one more highlight at the end of the month when he travels to London to represent Canada in the heavyweight division at the 2012 Paralympic Games.
The 39-year-old’s path to the Paralympics features many twists and turns, beginning in his youth growing up in Mechanicsville, a west-end neighbourhood that wasn’t first recognized as a hotbed of athletic talent in that era.
“I started judo really young, I started at seven years old,” recounts Walby. “Tina Takahashi was a student-teacher at my grade school and she started an after-school judo program. I went to it and I never left it.”
Takahashi, whose family’s Melrose Avenue dojo Walby still trains out of today, vividly remembers the Connaught Elementary School student’s passion for the sport as a youngster. Walby’s sensei hinted that his early commitment has a lot to do with his rise in judo.
“He always really loved judo, even as a teenager,” says Takahashi. ”I used to have early-morning runs at 7 in the morning – we would run up Carlington ski hill or run around the neighbourhood.
“We were training a couple times a day and he would never miss a practice. He was the only guy that would go. I don’t even think he had proper track shoes, but he would come out and train with us. He was always really dedicated.”
That dedication served Walby well as he matured as a judo fighter, transitioning from a committed youth with a great deal of potential to a top-ranked adult competitor. Some highlights in what is now a 30-year career are: being a member of Canada’s national team for over a decade and winning 12 senior national medals in able-bodied competition, including gold at the 2008 Canadian championships in Quebec.
That seemed like the perfect finish to a competitive career, so Walby retired. But he was suddenly drawn back in when he suddenly became eligible for Paralympic competition. Walby had full sight for the majority of his life, but his vision has greatly deteriorated over the last few years.
“I have a cone dystrophy,” explains Walby, who won a U.S. Open event earlier this year. “What that means is the cells in my eyes that are cones are dying. And there’s no way to regenerate them.”
He certainly hasn’t let the impairment slow him down. While holding down a project analyst job with Correction Services Canada, raising a child with his wife, and coaching judo all at the same time, Walby has continued competing in the sport he loves and secured his ticket to London back in March.
Walby’s perseverance and natural talent have been huge factors in his continued success, but he’s also quick to give credit to the many individuals around him who have provided unwavering support for so many years.
“The club is a family,” Walby says of Takahashi Dojo. “It’s not just run by a family, but everybody at the club comes together and supports each other all along.”
Walby also highlights the huge role his immediate family have played in his success, noting his wife drives him everywhere and also handles household responsibilities while he’s training.
“My whole family is super supportive,” he adds.
With plans to retire from competition for good after the London Games, Walby won’t be leaving the sport behind, but instead will focus wholly on coaching, hoping to further develop the Canadian para-national team.
Walby competes on Sept. 1.
Saturday, Sept. 1, 6 a.m. ET