By Martin Boyce
A rough year came to a silky smooth end for Ottawa judoka Benjamin Kendrick as he took home a bronze medal from the Aug. 9-13 Cadet World Judo Championships in Chile.
“Injuries, hard work, getting sick at times, and missing training – all that kind of washed away when I received that bronze medal,” reflects the 18-year-old who downed opponents from Argentina, Trinidad and Russia in the preliminary round of the men’s 90 kg category, then lost on a non-combativity penalty to a Romanian in a semi-final bout that went 4+ minutes in overtime, and went on to beat the world #1 from Russia by ippon in the bronze medal contest.
“I honestly don’t think I could’ve fought better than I did,” Kendrick indicates, noting both his physical abilities and concentration were at their peak during the tournament. “I gave my very best every fight.”
Kendrick’s bronze came on the heels of his repeat gold medal at the Cadet Pan Am Championships earlier this summer in Mexico – a tournament he questioned even entering.
“I had a rough year this year,” underlines the Grade 12 Louis-Riel high school student. “I got injured and that kind of took away my confidence.”
Kendrick suffered popped and broken ligaments in his arm, but decided to enter the Pan Ams anyway “as an opportunity to rebuild my confidence before the worlds,” he explains. “When I won that, I kind of felt like I was back in my spot, back in top shape and ready to go.”
Now, weeks after winning bronze at Worlds, it’s finally sunk in that he’s one of the best athletes in his age and weight class. Simply getting the chance to compete at worlds is something Kendrick will never forget.
“Having the maple leaf on my uniform and having Canada written everywhere, it just feels great to represent my country and be with the other athletes that have made it that far,” smiles Kendrick.
Rough road to the top
One of the major struggles the rising judoka and his family have encountered is financing his elite-level pursuit. Kendrick has travelled to take part in as many senior tournaments as he could – taking on 20- and 30-year-old men since age 15 – in order to increase his ranking and points total because that’s the most effective way to get funding, he explains.
His Takahashi Dojo club has helped fundraise, and donations have helped get him to international competitions as well, but it’s been a long, hard-fought journey to make it to worlds.
That includes missing 2 days a week of school for the past 2 years – made easier by Louis-Riel’s specialized sports program, however – to train at Judo Canada’s national training centre in Montreal, plus many injuries and mental struggles along the way.
“I think I’ve grown as an individual in the past 2 years,” signals Kendrick, whose parents – former national-champion judokas themselves – helped him pull through the difficult year.
“My family supported me and my friends supported me, but I think it’s your own self that kind of has to get it going for you,” he adds. “You have to be your strongest support and that’s what I’ve been for myself all year long.”
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