Ricky Ties thought his athletic career was over. Now, he's training for the Paralympics.
If you told Ricky Ties five years ago that one day he would be training alongside some of the country's best athletes, he might have laughed.
Ties, who had an impressive run as a high school and college wrestler, had put his athletic career behind him and shifted his focus to helping the next wave of young athletes pursue their dreams.
But then the unexpected happened.
While coaching wrestling at Rochester Community and Technical College, Ties came across an article that Team USA was looking for visually-impaired wrestlers willing to make the transition to judo.
Ties, a 2001 Mayo High School grad, jumped at the opportunity.
"I don't think they were looking for people in their 30s, but luckily I was still in decent enough shape that I could pick it up," said Ties.
Now at the age of 35, Ties is considered one of the country's top medal contenders in judo for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
Related: Hanna Hughes: Team USA
In preparation for qualifiers, which begin in September, Ties has taken up residency at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He spends most of his time there working out and refining his technique with the help of top-level trainers, coaches and dieticians.
"There are definitely days when you are beat down and wore out," Ties told us during a recent tour of the facility. "But you just need to build the perspective that this is something you never thought you would be able to do."
When he's not on campus, Ties can be found competing overseas — where he continues to rack up medals at international tournaments. Last October, he won bronze (100 kg weight class) at the IBSA Judo World Cup in Uzbekistan.
Ties said while his age may seem like a disadvantage, his experience has actually helped him become a stronger judoka. He described judo as an emotional sport that requires as much mental strength as physical ability.
"Getting into the mindset of a coach has been really helpful in coming back to be an athlete; realizing you have to work smarter, not just harder," said Ties, who was born with a rare eye disease called retinitis pigmentos.
To make it to the 2020 Paralympics, Ties knows he will need to stay healthy and focused going into the qualifying tournaments — where the competition will be as tough as anything he has ever faced. But where some may see a challenge, Ties told us he sees an opportunity. Because for him, the chance to represent Team USA is something worth fighting for.
"Sometimes you wonder why you go through things and what you are being prepared for," he said, "and it felt like a lot of things in my life prepared me to be ready to take advantage of this opportunity."
Follow Sean on Twitter.