Meet the athlete who is fighting epilepsy with judo
A Devizes man who is fighting epilepsy with judo is on track to compete in the world’s largest sporting event for blind and partially sighted athletes after celebrating three years seizure free.
Evan Molloy will take on some of the world’s best athletes as he represents Great Britain at the 2023 IBSA World Games in Birmingham this summer – the first time it has been hosted in the UK.
He was born with ocular albinism – a condition which causes severe visual impairment – and was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was just four years old, resulting in up to 40 seizures a week at its worst.
Evan developed a passion for judo as a teenager but said the gruelling effect of epilepsy saw his Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games dreams dashed, and almost forced him to quit the sport altogether.
But with help of British Judo and The Epilepsy Society as well as his own grit and determination, the 24-year-old turned a new leaf and has used judo to become three years seizure free.
“It is not a straightforward story,” Evan admitted.
“There was a point where I was having five seizures a day and it was really affecting my ability to function.
“Unfortunately, it affected me to the point where I missed out on the Paralympics and as I got older it just got worse and worse.
“It was very touch-and-go if I would be able to continue with the sport that I love because of the impact it was having on my life.”
But, in life, Evan has always been a fighter.
Guided by the support of British Judo, he was put in touch with The Epilepsy Society and received help at the Chalfont Centre for Epilepsy.
Evan said: “We were able to get control of my seizures partly through the help that I got from the Chalfont Centre, and partly because of judo.
“Judo has given me a lot more structure to my life in terms of how I eat, sleep and recover, which is so important to be able to control it.
“I love judo, the feeling of competing and the sense of community.
“Touch-wood, we are three-and-a-half years seizure free and it’s going really well. The results for me are starting to show, which I’m very grateful for.”
Evan’s stock in the world of judo has risen sharply in the last 12 months.
He picked up a bronze in the IBSA Antalya Grand Prix in April 2022, achieved fifth in the IBSA European Championships in November, and scooped bronze again in January’s IBSA Judo Grand Prix in Portugal.
IBSA altered its weight categories last year which now pits Evan against heavier opponents, which Evan admitted was a “real concern”.
“British Judo said ‘no, we genuinely think you can do it’, and that spurred me on,” he said.
“Before the European Championships I hit a world-ranking high of third in the world. We are currently sitting sixth with a European Championship place and a couple of Grand Prix medals to my name, and it is amazing to be able to say that.”
When not training, you will most likely find Evan in his hometown of Devizes, helping with his family’s pizza-making business.
He said: “When I get back home on Friday I’m always tired from training but my parents ask me to help out with the pizza van.
“I’m like ‘great, if this is the only way I get to spend time with you then fine, but I am not happy about it!’.
“But I love going back and seeing everyone. I’m back every weekend and people always stop me and ask how training’s going. It’s amazing to get that support.”
The down-to-earth former Lavington Comprehensive School student draws a lot of inspiration from his hero Chris Skelley MBE – a European champion and Paralympic Games gold-medallist.
“I will embarrass him a little bit, but when I was younger I idolised Chris,” said Evan, who now not only trains with Chris at the British Judo National Training Centre in Walsall, but is also his housemate.
“We train together, cook each other’s meals, have arguments about the washing up. It’s really funny how the world works but I am very grateful. He’s an inspiration.”
Judo is one of three competitions at the World Games which act as qualification tournaments for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games – a goal which Evan says “gives me goosebumps”.
But the World Games, backed by lead sponsor RNIB, is his immediate focus.
Evan said: “I am extremely lucky to say that I am an athlete full time, but I also have disabilities and sometimes in the real world that can make things a little difficult.
“I often think where I would be without judo and to be perfectly honest, I do not know.
“The World Games is an opportunity to showcase judo in Britain as it genuinely does not get enough recognition. It has done so much for me. I am hoping the home crowd can spur us on.”