You would think that Paralympic judo competitor Justin Karn wouldn't be thrilled with his nickname, The Badger.
Badgers, after all, are described as short little animals with tiny legs and fat bodies and are part of the weasel family.
And as Homer Simpson once said, "weaseling out" is the only thing that distinguishes human beings from other animals ... other than the weasel.
But here's the thing. Karn, a native of Waterloo, Ont., doesn't mind the nickname at all.
"The Badger's a pretty bad-ass little animal," Karn said recently, over a beverage at the Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Toronto. "And it's not afraid to take on other, bigger animals."
That's true. Though they might be small and less than intimidating, badgers are also strong, fast and fierce.
Fortunately, when Karn heads over to London this summer to compete at the Paralympic Games, he won't have to worry about taking on bigger opponents, but certainly the creme of the crop in his sport.
Competing in the 60kg weight class, Karn hopes to carry on from his bronze-medal performance at the 2011 Guadalajara Parapan American Games and go deep into the tournament, with an eye on Paralympic glory, but more importantly, finishing high enough so he will qualify for Sport Canada funding.
The way it is now, Karn, who was born with a visual impairment and has competed at a high level in wrestling and swimming, gets by representing Canada on limited support, though he receives some Quest for Gold funding from the province.
"It's extraordinarily hard," said Karn. "In other countries, that's their full-time job, just to be a judo person. Great Britain house their athletes, they have a special venue where they can train with Olympic-type athletes and they have all the resources they could possibly meet."
To get by, Karn teaches and cleans the gym at his home club, the Asahi Judo Club in Kitchener, to make extra cash.
"You got to do what you can to pay the bills," he said. "Judo doesn't have a lot of the resources that some of the other sports do, so a lot of the stuff has to come out of my own pocket. It can be discouraging. But when I first signed on, I knew what I was getting into. This has been my dream since I was a little kid, to be in the Paralympics. I tried to do it for swimming, I tried to do it for wrestling and I finally I have the opportunity to do it in judo."
As a world-class Paralympic judoka (in Paralympic judo, competitors must be in physical contact at all times), Karn is known for his ground fighting, especially his chokes, hold-downs and arm bars.
"Because of my wrestling background, naturally I was really good at the ground fighting and really good at choking and arm bars," he said. "I'm good at throwing too. But I just seem to be a little more comfortable on the ground."
His conditioning is also one of his strengths. Karn will rarely, if ever, lose a match as a result of inferior fitness.
"I'm pretty much a seven-day judo guy," he said of his training regimen. "I actually get in trouble because I don't take enough days off. I'm at the club more than I am at home."
Karn is hoping to get past the second round in London, because if he does, he should qualify for federal carding and that would allow him to train full-time without overwhelming financial worries. He plans to keep on competing after London, hopefully right through to the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto.
Another thing badgers are known for -- their toughness. And Karn certainly fits that bill. Though he says that he's "lucky" not to have suffered too many injuries, the 30-year-old has experienced a litany of physical setbacks, including breaking practically all his fingers and toes, damaging his rotator cuffs and, just last year, tearing tendons in his hands.
"Recently in Germany," he said, "I competed with a separated collarbone. I wanted to keep my international level up. I was still recovering, but I decided to fight anyway,"
Karn said competing with aches, pains and broken bones is part of being an elite judoka.
"I'm going to be limping around like Yoda when I'm 90," he said, with a laugh. "It just goes with the territory."