Hoosier coach pursuing gold at Paralympics 

click to enlarge Team USA Paralympic Athlete Dennis Ogbe propels the discus into the air at the Paralympic qualifiers in Indianapolis in July. Ogbe qualified as an alternate in the seated F-58 discus for this year's games. - JACK MEYER
  • Team USA Paralympic Athlete Dennis Ogbe propels the discus into the air at the Paralympic qualifiers in Indianapolis in July. Ogbe qualified as an alternate in the seated F-58 discus for this year's games.
  • Jack Meyer

On the cloudy morning of the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Trials in Indianapolis, Dennis Ogbe walked to the discus seat for his final throw of the day.

"Let it fly, Dennis!" someone shouted from the group of supporters looking on.

After strapping his withered left leg to the discus seat, a backless 3-foot tall, stool-like chair, Ogbe begins to twist his body back and forth with discus in hand and arms swinging outstretched.

With a booming yell, Ogbe's bulging right arm sling-shots the discus into the air.

Officials measure the throw at 51.48 yards — Ogbe's best throw this year.

"That's more than half a football field," Ogbe said. "I've been going from 47, 48, 49, 50, and this is the nationals and I'm hitting 51, but I don't want to peak now. I'm still holding off for the Paralympic Games so I can peak at that time."

Ogbe is one of four promising Team USA Paralympic discus athletes who have been training for the Games in London under the direction of Merrillville, Ind., native and Ball State University Professor Larry Judge.

Judge, who coordinates BSU's graduate athletic coaching education program, has become a respected instructor in events like discus, javelin, hammer throw and shot-put. He boasts a staggering training background, coaching eight Olympians, 10 NCAA champions and more than 100 All-Americans.

"Larry is absolutely awesome, probably the best thing that's happened to me," said Scott Danberg, a Judge-trained discus athlete competing in a dwarf class in this year's Games, which will be his fifth.

Danberg, who will compete in the F-40 class for competitors under 4-foot-6, is currently ranked fourth in the world and is a favorite to take home medals this year.

Judge has been working with Danberg and three other Paralympic athletes since 2009 in preparation for the Paralympic games next month in London.

Judge's coaching past

Judge and his brother started competing in track and field because of encouragement from their father to throw the shot-put. After becoming a standout shot-putter at Indiana State University, Judge's passion for the sport carried over into his first coaching job at ISU in 1988.

After ISU, Judge spent 15 years coaching collegiately at South Carolina, Wyoming and Florida, where he had his greatest success before arriving at Ball State in 2005.

Under Judge's direction, the Florida throws team earned more than 30 All-American honors, six individual NCAA titles and 16 individual SEC titles. It brought Judge recognition as the premiere throws coach in the U.S.

Judge has been attending Olympic Games as a coach since the Atlanta Summer Games in 1996, where he had one athlete, a shot-putter competing for Canada.

"I remember walking into the stadium and it was at eight in the morning and it was full and I was just like 'wow,'" Judge said. "It was sold out, jam-packed, every seat. I remember walking up, you could hear the roar of the crowd, and you could just see the people and I had goose bumps. It was something unbelievable."

Since, Judge has had athletes competing in the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Summer Games with the highest finish for a Judge-trained athlete being seventh in the hammer throw in 2000.

While studying under Judge, Danberg and teammate Jeremy Campbell received medals in the discus at the Paralympic World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand last year. Danberg won a bronze and Campbell took a silver.

This year, Judge and Team USA have high expectations.

"Certainly as a coach you want to under predict and over deliver," Judge said. "The silver medal finish and bronze medal finish of Campbell and Danberg at the world championship last year puts them in medal contention. We're going to be competing hard for the gold and I think both of them are capable of doing very, very well."

Judge said the USA Paralympic Team has set a goal of bringing home 30 medals over all.

The coaching process

Despite obvious limitations to mobility for some of his athletes, Judge said training his Paralympic athletes to perform at the highest level hasn't been much different than working with the able-bodied athletes he has worked with in his 18 years of coaching.

"Jeremy Campbell has an artificial leg on his right leg and so certain exercises we're not able to do as well, so you have to just change a little bit of your exercise selection," Judge said. "But the way you do them and the way you peak an athlete and the way you structure their program is exactly the same."

Campbell, an amputee, is competing in this year's standing F-44 discus, one of two events in which he is the current world record holder. Campbell is the only Paralympic discus athlete to break the 60-meter mark in competition and is considered a favorite in his event.

"I've never met a coach that is so absorbed in what he's doing," Campbell said. "One of the most important factors that you have to have in your coach [is] believing in them, and trusting them and I couldn't believe more in Larry and what he's doing and the places he's taken me."

Judge said a typical training day includes two sessions working on the athlete's specific sport and a weight lifting session totaling four to six hours a day.

"I have never been under a strength conditioning regimen that has been so difficult. He means business and I say that in a good way," Campbell said. "His program is intense, especially in the weight room and he's just very disciplined and I like that because that rubs off on me."

Campbell will compete this year against his international rival, Dan Greaves of Great Britain.

Danberg, who will turn 50 this year, won a silver medal in the javelin at his first Paralympics in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988.

"Without coach Judge I wouldn't be making it to my fifth games," Danberg said. "You get another inch here and an inch there and those are meters out on the field and Larry brought that out of me."

Judge and his athletes finished their final training camp last week in Windsor, Canada, before they head to London on Aug. 17 to train before the Paralympic Games begin on Aug. 29.

Judge and his Paralympic athletes share a strong desire to pursue excellence, a sentiment he says has been growing among Paralympic teams around the world in recent years. That has fueled more intense competitiveness, which culminates next month in London.

"This is serious, serious business. It's about performance," Judge said. "Because to [my athletes,] the Paralympic Games are the Olympic Games. There's no difference."


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