Judo is a sport that transcends barriers, uniting individuals of diverse physical and mental abilities. The inclusion of adaptive athletes not only promotes equal opportunities but also enriches the sport itself, demonstrating that spirit and perseverance know no bounds.

A standout example of this inclusive effort is the Panamerican Adaptive Judo Games Riverside 2024, an historic event on the Panamerican Judo Confederation (PJC) calendar. The Riverside Youth Judo Club pioneered the integration of athletes with special needs, beginning back in 2012. Initially accepting students with various disabilities, by 2015, their student base had grown sufficiently to organise their inaugural adaptive tournament, named ‘Yuuki no Shiai’ (Contest of Courage). Around 25 adaptive competitors participated in this foundational event, setting the stage for an annual tradition.

Over the years, the Riverside Youth Judo Club's adaptive judo tournament has grown significantly, culminating in hosting the US Adaptive Judo National Championships for its last three editions. Participant numbers have risen steadily, surpassing 100 competitors in recent events.

In 2024, an even larger step was taken with the Panamerican Adaptive Judo Games. This event marks the PJCs first adaptive judo tournament, with an incredible 207 participants. Adaptive categories encompass a wide range of disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), intellectual disability, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, among others.

Brian Money, Programme Director and instructor for USA Judo's adaptive judo programme, emphasises the significance of these events, "Participants are happy, motivated and genuinely grateful to have an event that allows them to compete. We follow strict rules of adaptive judo that help keep participants safe and matches fair." Brian Money highlights the tremendous development among athletes with special needs, benefiting both them and their judo peers, fostering compassion and mutual understanding.

The event's success is also owed to the dedication of other adaptive judo enthusiasts, including Scott Galles, the sole internationally certified referee in adaptive/special needs judo in the USA, and Pedro Villa Jr., principal therapist at the Riverside Youth Judo Club.

The Panamerican Adaptive Judo Games Riverside 2024 not only celebrated the skill and courage of adaptive athletes but also underscored the importance of inclusion in sport. It was a reminder that judo has the power to bring people of all abilities together and inspire entire communities.

Panamerican Adaptive Judo Games Riverside 2024 is a milestone in adaptive judo history but it is also a call to continue opening doors and breaking barriers so that everyone, regardless of ability, can experience the joy and challenge of judo. In a world where valuing diversity is increasingly important, events like this remind us that true triumph lies in inclusion and the opportunity to participate and compete on an equal footing.

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