Many children dream of representing their country in sport at some stage in their life, but it’s an incredibly difficult feat to achieve. One athlete who has had the honour, however, is KELLY EDWARDS. I was able to speak to her about the fascinating story behind her move into Judo and how it felt to compete for Team GB in the London Olympics back in 2012.
Judo is a sport that many people are not too familiar with, but what influenced you to get into participating?
I actually started Judo thanks to a bribe from my Mum when I was eleven years old. I was previously a gymnast and very much a girly girl so I didn’t think wearing pyjama-like suits, getting sweaty and fighting with others was for me at all. Then one weekend I needed £5 to go to the cinema with friends.
The deal was that I got to go to the cinema, but I had to give judo a try the following week. I kept to my side of the bargain and it turned out to be the best bribe ever.
I loved it. It was so different to anything I had ever tried before and I loved that because of my strength ability from gymnastics, I could beat some of boys at the club in the first few weeks.
I suppose that gave you great confidence, but did you ever believe you would reach the heights that you have in your career to date?
I always wanted to be the best at anything and everything I did. Board games, running, drawing – you name it! I remember so many Christmas time sulks over a game of scrabble.
Being an Olympian was my dream and I wanted to represent my country too. I wasn’t quite sure after I stopped gymnastics if I would find another sport that I was passionate about to be able to accomplish this dream, or compete at the highest level. But in Judo, and through the help and guidance of my personal coach Gareth Mapp, we overcame many obstacles to get to where we are today.
In 2010 aged just 19, you represented Great Britain in the European Judo Championships in Vienna, finishing seventh. Just how big of an achievement was that for you?
It was a major achievement. It was my first senior competition and for that to be the European Championships was overwhelming.
It was also my first competition back after having 12 months out of action due to a hip injury that required surgery to repair some cartilage.
I was for sure thrown straight in at the deep end, so coming away with seventh place considering everything was fantastic and it demonstrated my long term potential.
You mentioned previously that your Mum played a big part in encouraging you, how overwhelmed was she at that point, knowing her daughter had done her country proud?
I’m sure she was very proud, but she knew it was just a stepping stone and I had lots more yet to accomplish with a home Olympic Games on the horizon.
Prior to the London games, you won gold medals in both the European Cup and the British Open European Cup – how much of a confidence boost was that for you?
Yes they were great results, the British Open was incredibly important as it was my last opportunity to qualify for London 2012. I knew I had to win that competition if I wanted any chance of being named as part of the Team GB Olympic team.
I treated that competition like it was the Olympic Games, and for the eight weeks prior all my efforts were around my preparations for that event. Fortunately, I had a great day, everything come together and paid off – and I was selected to represent my country at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
What was your overriding emotion at that point with you being chosen to be part of Team GB?
I was extremely happy, excited and proud. It’s what every athlete works towards so it felt amazing to know that all the hard work and determination to overcome all the injuries and setbacks paid off.
Unfortunately you didn’t medal at the games, but can you describe the experience with it being held in England?
It was very special for us to have a home games in London – it’s a once in a lifetime occasion. The memories I have of walking out into the Excel Arena and having so many British supporters chanting my name was incredible, It’s something I will never forget.
I was only 21 years old when competing in London so the whole occasion gave me so much experience to use in future multi-sport events like the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.
During those Commonwealth games, you performed admirably and you picked up a Silver Medal after losing to Louise Renicks in the under 52kg final. Were you disappointed not to clinch gold?
Yes of course! It was a very close contest and to lose on the smallest score possible in judo in the last seconds was devastating. I had beaten some really tough opponents that day to reach the final so I desperately wanted to go all the way, but it just wasn’t to be.
You have recently been competing in a few competitions haven’t you? How did that go?
I’ve had a busy few months competing. In the last nine weeks I’ve competed in five competitions, winning medals in all of them. Most recently I was in Abu Dhabi competing in a Grand Slam event and I won a bronze medal.
The success you have achieved thus far is very inspirational – do you want to use that to encourage young children to give Judo a go?
It would be great if children hear my journey and are inspired to give judo a go. It’s the sport I love and it has given me so many experiences in life that have helped me grow as a person. I hope to inspire young people and adults to give things a try to find something they are passionate about.
There are so many physical activities out there alongside mainstream sports like soccercise, Zumba, dance etc. Staying active gives you so many health benefits, but also plenty of other positive factors such as developing socially and mentally.
If anybody reading this would like to participate in Judo, what would your advice be to them?
Head over to the British Judo website to find out your nearest club or drop me a message on Twitter and I’ll try and help you out.
My Twitter handle is @Kel_Edwards1 and the BJA site is http://www.britishjudo.org.uk