For Para Judoka Ben Goodrich, Parapan Ams Flag Bearer Nod Is Both ‘Humbling’ And ‘Exciting’
by Bob Reinert
Ben Goodrich has done some things in his Para judo career. The native of St. Paul, Minnesota, has been competing internationally for a decade, claimed a youth world title in his first year and taken part in two Paralympic Games, winning a silver medal at the most recent one two years ago in Tokyo.
Still, the news that arrived this week came as a surprise: Goodrich, alongside wheelchair tennis player Dana Mathewson, will serve as Team USA’s flag bearers at Friday’s opening ceremony of the 2023 Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile.
“That was really cool,” said Goodrich, who turns 31 on Nov. 26. “I feel like that’s quite humbling that people would choose me as that person. So, that’s pretty exciting. There’s so many people with impressive stories.
“Being able to carry the flag … it’s definitely for somebody that everybody feels is a representative of the common goals or the common vision that they want to show as what we’re about or what the athletes are about.”
Goodrich, who is visually impaired, hopes to return to the podium in Santiago after winning a silver medal in the men’s 100 kg. class at the 2019 Parapan Am Games in Lima, Peru. This will be his third time at the competition.
“In Lima, I had a good showing,” he recalled. “We fought (the 100 kg. class) together with the +100s. And even with the +100s, I still took silver. I thought I did pretty well there.”
That proved to be a good warmup for Tokyo, where Goodrich reached the finale but fell to Christopher Skelley of Great Britain by waza-ari at the iconic Nippon Budokan.
Goodrich had earned his spot in the gold-medal match with a victory by ippon against Antonio Tenorio da Silva of Brazil in the semifinals. The two could meet again in Santiago.
“I’m happy with the result compared to my first entrance to the Paralympics in 2016. Second is a whole lot of improvement from ninth,” Goodrich said at the time. “Hopefully, if I’m around again in Paris (2024), we can improve on that and get some gold coming our way.”
Since Goodrich won the silver medal in Tokyo at 100 kg., weight classes have changed, and he dropped down to 90 kg.
“I think it’s probably better for my body,” Goodrich said. “They took out weight classes so that they could add a secondary division on vision classification.”
In Santiago, both the qualifying and finals in his class take place on Nov. 20. He expects Da Silva and the other Brazilians to provide their usual fierce opposition, and he has trained accordingly.
“Hoping for a nice early birthday present,” said Goodrich of a possible medal. “I would say obviously, there’s always room to improve, there’s always room to get better, but I feel pretty good. It does get harder and harder as you get older.”
Judo isn’t the only important aspect of Goodrich’s life these days. He and his wife, Nicolina Pernheim, another judo Paralympian, are living in her native Sweden and expecting a baby daughter in January. He’s also working as a project leader for the Swedish Judo Federation while pursuing his master’s degree in accounting and financial management at the University of Gothenburg.
“Everything’s going great,” Goodrich said. “I’m trying to do a lot of things as I start to transition to, I guess I would call it, the real world, something after sport, or along with sport.”
Goodrich isn’t quite ready to wrap up his competitive career just yet, however. Specifically he’s eying 2028, when the Paralympic Games are in Los Angeles.
“That’s in the U.S.,” he said. “That seems like something that I’d want to do.
“It’s hard to quit sport. I love sports. It’s given me a lot. I’m going to try to do it as long as I can.”
If he’s able to stay active until the Los Angeles Games, it would give his young daughter a chance to see him compete in a Paralympic Games.
“Hopefully, she’ll enjoy being on the judo mat because I assume we’re going to get her in a little gi sometime there, just so she can get introduced to some of those germs,” Goodrich said jokingly. “I think the little girl is the big thing on my mind. My heart’s kind of in two places at the same time. I’m constantly thinking about what’s happening there back home.”
Hard work on the judo mat has gotten him a long way in the sport, and it sounds like he will approach fatherhood with the same commitment and determination.
“You have to learn your way through it,” Goodrich said. “It’s not something that you come into knowing everything. It’s something you learn along the way. Now we’re just waiting for her grand appearance.”