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by Carrie Debrone
Canada’s reigning under-18 division judo champion, Monika Burgess, has her sights set on a high-profile sports career in Judo, and if her recent record is any indication, we may all be watching her at a future Olympics.
The 16-year-old Kitchener teen returned to Canada with a silver medal in the senior’s category and a bronze in the under-20, after competing in the Jan. 24 and 25 Commonwealth Championships in Cardiff, Wales.
She also came home from that competition with something she didn’t expect – a separated shoulder.
Burgess spent February resting her injury but is now back into her three-hours a day training schedule at the Asahi Judo Club in Kitchener.
The injury happened during the senior division competition against 21-year-old Stefanie Tremblay of Montreal.
“We both turned in for a throw at the same time, and somehow we ended up falling on my shoulder,” Burgess explained.
“I tried to keep going but it really hurt and I had to pull out,” she said. Her withdrawal from the match meant she had to concede the game to her opponent and go home with the silver medal.
Keeping the ambulance waiting so she wouldn’t miss the medal ceremony, she left immediately after she received her medals for treatment at the hospital.
Because of the injury, she was unable to compete in Portugal and Germany in February.
Back into training last week, Burgess is now preparing for two junior world cup competitions taking place in Italy and Russia in April. She is one of Canada’s 10-member junior Judo team.
Monika also trains four times a year at the national training centre in Montreal (one week at a time), and attended a three week Canadian team training camp in Japan last summer.
Judo is often described as being more like wrestling than a martial art. Now an Olympic sport, Judo was created in Japan in 1882 by Jigoro Kano.
Its most prominent feature is its competitive element, where competitors try to either throw or take down their opponent to the ground, immobilize them with a grappling maneuver, or force them to submit by joint locking or by executing a strangle hold or choke.
Burgess began taking Judo lessons at the age of three. She was also heavily involved in gymnastics as a child, however when she was in grade 5 she badly broke her arm (a compound fracture) and had to take time off to recover. When she returned a year later she was behind in her age group and found it difficult to catch up with her former gymnastics peers.
She stepped up her time practicing Judo from the usual once-a-week lessons and soon found that she loved the sport.
“I began to like Judo more. I thought it was more fun,” she said.
“It’s fun throwing people down really hard,” she laughed.
Burgess comes by her talent for Judo honestly. Her dad, Mark, who has been her coach since she began taking Judo, was himself a Canadian national junior Judo champion and also brought home a few medals from adult competitions. He is a certified Judo coach and teaches at the Asahi Judo Club about 25 to 30 hours a week.
Her mother, Robyn, a former gymnast who competed at the national level, also competed nationally and internationally in Judo until a few years ago.
The family has always made Judo something that they “just did.”
“It was like going to church. Our kids grew up with it. We never asked them if they wanted to do it. We just did it,” Mark Burgess said.
Monika’s 15-year-old brother Cameron also takes Judo lessons.
“I think Monika has done so well in the last few years because she came to this sport as a very fit athlete. Gymnastics put her in good standing for Judo,” Mark Burgess said.
“She shows real talent. She’s very good at take downs and also at controlling the person on the ground,” he said, adding that his daughter is very tall for her age and weight, giving her an advantage in her 63-kilo division.
“She has a huge reach and that’s a big advantage,” he said.
Burgess said his daughter’s recent hiatus to recover from her injury has been trying for her.
“I think she feels kind of empty if she’s not doing Judo,” he said.
Monika, who is currently in grade 11 at Forest Heights high school and a member of the school’s wrestling team, is excited about continuing her achievements in Judo after graduation.
She plans to move to Montreal to attend university and also to be close to the national training centre --- a move she said has paid off for
some of her older Judo friends.
“We’re hoping to get a national training centre card that will help pay for part of her university,” Mark said.
“International and Olympic competition is a whole new level. Just like any other top athlete, she is going to have to find something within herself to take her to that level. If she can do that I think she’s probably a couple of Olympics away. If I were to dream, maybe she would be ready for 2020. That would be very, very cool,” Mark Burgess said.
WINS TWO MEDALS AT COMMONWEALTH CHAMPIONSHIPS
Forest Heights student ranked first in Canada in Judo under-18 division
Monika Burgess, Canada’s reigning under-18 division judo champion, spars with Hamlet John Munoz, a national silver medalist, during a training session at the Asahi Judo Club.