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Lori Pierce

Paralympian Lori Pierce

In 1984, Lori Pierce was born prematurely. To keep her alive she was given large doses of oxygen. The life-saving oxygen caused blood vessels in her retinas to burst, which led to scarring and detachment of her retinas and blindness.  Her birth mother spoke very little English and was abusing drugs.  She had already given two children up for adoption.  She did not understand when the doctors told her that her daughter was blind and she relinquished custody of Lori.  Fortunately, there was a family available that had been taking in “special needs” foster children. When she was four months old, Lori became a wonderful addition to their already large loving family.  Her new family had a ‘vision’ for their daughter and they were not ‘blind’ to the opportunities that lay ahead.  Being blind does not mean lacking a vision, desire, or the strength to reach one’s dream.  As one could imagine, Lori had difficulties in the ‘social’ world. While everyone loved her for her inspiration, independence, attitude and smile, not many took the time to become her real friend.  When she was six or seven, friends would ask if she could come and play at the park. However, once there they met other friends and would run off, leaving Lori all alone.  “Miss Independence” proceeded to find a nearby house and ask to use the phone to call home. Lori never seemed to let it bother her. Having seven brothers and sisters, Lori was always athletic. In fact, Lori didn’t realize she couldn’t play sports, and became active in a disabled soccer team. She began skiing at the age of five. After having an accident, (skiing blind is certainly a difficult feat) Lori was still undeterred. The incident even made Lori more determined to gain the necessary sensory skills needed to be an accomplished skier. Lori also taught herself to ride a bike, using her honed senses in order to locate and identify parked cars and other obstacles simply by the way the wind sounded around her. Because of her passion for athletics, Lori rode tandem bicycles as part of Team Courage.  The Team had several training rides each year culminating in the Courage Classic, which was a three day event covering 167 miles through the mountains of Colorado raising money for the Children’s Hospital.  From playing basketball to doing flips on a trampoline to running cross-country, and throwing the discus as a member of the track team, Lori did it all – stumping everyone around her as they began to wonder if she was truly blind. It was unbelievable to watch her in cross-country events, running with a sighted guide, going up and down embankments, through water and over rocks; but the school was concerned over the liabilities they would incur if Lori were to get injured.  Nothing would stop her. Lori lettered in cross-country and went on to win the “Terry Dobson Most Inspirational Athlete Award” in her senior year.  Amazingly, Lori was chosen in 2002 to carry the Olympic Torch in the Torch Relay for the Salt Lake City Winter Games.  Judo came into Lori’s life at the young age of fifteen. She soon realized that Judo changed her life. She would tell all who would listen that it was a sport you didn’t need sight for; it was a level playing field.  Soon she joined the University of Denver Judo Club with Paralympic Gold Medalist Scott Moore as her coach. Lori was also fortunate to train with one of the top Judo coaches in the world, Willy Cahill, of Cahill’s Judo Academy in California. Coach Cahill was Scott Moore’s coach when the US Paralympic Judo Team brought home two Gold Medals from the 2000 Games held in Sydney, Australia. After two years of Judo training, Lori made the US Paralympic Judo Team and won the Gold Medal at the World Blind Judo Championships in Rome, Italy. At only seventeen, Lori said that representing her country – especially so close to the 9-11 incident – really changed her life. It was yet another milestone that Lori achieved through hard work, dedication and belief in herself. It wasn’t long after Lori received the US Marine Corp Warriors Award for her outstanding accomplishments, that she went on to win the Bronze Medal at both the British Open and Quebec World Championships in 2003. Her dream was to make the 2004 US Paralympic Judo Team and compete on the world stage in Athens, Greece.  Not only did she make the team, but Lori was also the only woman on the Blind Judo Team.  As it turns out, she was the first female allowed to compete in the Paralympics in the sport of Judo where she won the Silver Medal.

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