Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Blind judo athlete Dartanyon Crockett remains focused despite life-changing moments

By Joe Paisley Updated: September 4, 2014 at 7:46 am

Dartanyon Crockett has few moments when he can reflect on how his life has changed.

It has been two years since he surprised himself and his coach by garnering a bronze medal in visually impaired judo at the London Paralympics. But the wrestler turned judo athlete remains the young man who overcame much to become a hero to many.

"I am still the same person I was before," he said at the Olympic Training Center, where he will compete Friday in the International Blind Sports Association judo world championships. Admission is free. "People now want to talk to me all the time. I have accomplished a lot but I am not finished."

The legally blind Crockett was born with Leber's optic atrophy, a degenerative disease that limits his vision to the point that he can make out faces a couple of feet away. Competing at a high level with that is an accomplishment. Add in getting out of the Cleveland slums and his journey is remarkable.

It was that story that prompted a Colorado Springs child to approach Crockett in 2011 and tell him he was a hero. It was as big a life-changer for the OTC resident as the medal.

"I never thought of myself as inspirational before," he said. "I realized I have to be more careful about how I represent myself, especially on social media. I have a responsibility to tell my story because it inspires people."

Getting out of the slums was motivation enough for him.

ESPN chronicled his story and plans another installment later as part of its Road to Rio coverage. Former producer Lisa Fenn, who told their story in 2009 and again in 2013, will be in the cheering section with his childhood friend Leroy Sutton.

The two grew up in the hard-scrabble part of Cleveland, graduating from Lincoln-West High School where they competed in wrestling.

That was the easy part.

The 5-foot-7 Crockett was Lincoln's star grappler but he was also often homeless and mostly survived on cafeteria lunches. His mother died of an aneurysm when he was 8. His alcoholic father, who is now sober, was unable to give him a stable home life.

Sutton lost both legs when he was struck by a freight train at age 11 and Crockett would carry his friend, whose family also had its struggles, on his back up and down the high school's stairs since the facility had no elevator.

Fenn, who Crockett considers a mother figure, helped him get into judo. The 2009 broadcast attracted the attention of Eddie Liddie, the resident OTC judo coach, who saw his potential and invited him to the area in 2011 when he quickly picked up the sport.

For Crockett, having Fenn and Sutton in the stands this weekend means a lot. A gold medal Friday qualifies him for the 2016 Paralympics.

He realizes how far he has come. He could let up, but that is not him.

"I have accomplished a lot and could be satisfied with that," he said. "But I am still working hard and want to win gold in Rio."

While he is grateful for the direction of his life, Crockett remains focused on winning gold in Rio. His past success and support of his friends give him confidence.

"I will win gold in Rio; I have no doubt about that," he said. "I still have the want."

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