AGAINST ALL ODDS
Cramming in Brazilian jiu-litsu is a challenging task for anyone, especially for Andre Powell who is legally blind. The 30-year-old - who was born with the blindness causing condition, congenital glaucoma - managed to nab the most prestigious achievement in the sport by being awarded a black belt. This denotes him as an 'expert' in the martial art.
He is the first Australian blind Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt holder as of last December.
“After nine years of training it was overwhelming, humbling and beautiful all at the same time because I have put years and years into it,” Andre reflects.
The peninsula local, who now trains at the MMA gym in North Manly, started jiu-jitsu when his friend who was training to join the police force dragged him along.
“He thought it would be perfect for me because it was a very dose contact and thought it would boost my confidence.” he reflects.
Andre says his process of learning jiu-jitsu was exactly the same as everyone else's.
“I wasn't able to have the same attention to detail that everyone else did but once I started to understand it properly then everything fell into place,” he reveals.
“I have been tad that I do have a different style – I’m definitely am a little bit big guy, too.
“When people are moving you can interpret what they're doing by seeing what they are looking at and I’m not, so I've been told I am unpredictable, which I think is good. I can also sense how people move by feeling their movements, which I think is great."
After having over 30 surgeries to preserve the six per cent vision that remains in Andre's right eye, the jiu-jitsu star admits doctors aren't too impressed with all his competing.
"They said they've put too much effort into improving what little vision I have now - they don't particularly like the fact I do this, but they live with it," he says.
After a scary incident in August last year, Andre recognised the doctors' concerns.
"I didn't feel the need to protect myself until then," he divulges. "I thought, 'Oh, I'm not getting punched in the face I'll be fine but last year I was helping someone train for the world championship and I caught a knee to my left eye and it burst, causing a global rupture where all the blood and vitreous came out. The doctors said, ‘Well, what the hell did you do that for!?"
But despite the trials and tribulations, Andre has had many memorable moments. "Back in 2013, I was training in Hollywood before competing in the [world championships] and the guy I was versing was huge - about 35 pounds heavier - and I came out and locked him in two minutes and 17 seconds," Andre recalls.
Now wanting to give back to children with vision impairments, Andre has designed a program that teaches basic self-defence techniques for people with vision impairments. He explains, "It's something that I don't think is offered - it wasn't something that was offered with me when I was younger. I think it would be very beneficial."