I first started judo when I was 5 years old. I was introduced to the sport by hyper active big brother.
Judo has been in my life ever since, and despite wanting to stop at many moments of my life, my education was only secured through judo.
I grew up in Brazil, and I come from a working family. Despite my dad having various jobs at once, living expenses were difficult for us, and good education in Brazil is only provided in private (paid) schools unfortunately. My mum was an artist that tried to sell crafty things that she used to make to help in our financial situation.
Judo has been the main reason (alongside my parents constant support) that has provided me with an outstanding education in Brazil. I was sponsored by my primary and secondary school. The scholarship consisted of my education being free, as long as I had my schools name on my judogi and continuously represented my school in competitions.
I started competing when I was 8 years old. During the week I trained every night, and on the weekends I used to go to competitions of various levels. That’s where I used to wear my schools logo.
As I got older, my judo also improved, and so did my results in competitions.
When I was 12, I was number 1 in my state (states in Brazil are huge, so that was a big deal considering I was only 12)
However, when I turned 13 my life changed drastically. My family decided we were moving out of Brazil, due to high costs of living, danger of some places but mainly, my parents simply couldn’t afford to provide what me and my brother needed anymore. We sold everything we owned (not too much) and sent my dad to Europe. Me, my mum and brother had to live with my grandparents for a while, in a town that there was no judo (very rare thing in Brazil)
My dad is Italian, so we could choose anywhere in Europe to live. After one year of a lot struggle with choosing somewhere that would be good for the whole family, we moved to London.
During that year I only talked to my dad sometimes, he was in Europe trying to find a job, and had little money to be able to communicate all the time, it was the hardest year of my life, I had just turned 13, I had to stop a part of my life (judo) that was basically what helped me to create my identity, I moved 8 hours away from my school, friends, and anything I knew and I barely had any contact with my dad, who has always been a fanatic about judo, and would never ever let me miss anything to do with judo (my mum did too, but she didn’t have much of a choice from moving cities before we moved to London)
When I arrived in London I had been away from the mat for one year. A whole year without the sport that pretty much brought me up. I was excited to see my dad, so I didn’t even think about getting on the mat at all!
The first couple of months were school holidays here, so I was just sight seeing London, it felt like a holiday, so judo was not on my mind at all.
Until September came, and I had to join the kids in school. Up to then it was one year and a half that I had not been on the mat.
The start of my school year life here was horrible. I was constantly bullied, constantly freezing cold (there was a rule about not wearing hoodies but I couldn’t understand it because I didn’t speak English yet, so my hoodies were always confiscated), I was always either eating by myself in the toilets or trying to avoid having any eye contact with any other kid! I was so depressed. That year I put on 10kg (or more)
So there I was, 5ft, 68kg, miserable. I was getting very ill for various reasons, my parents were constantly working to make sure they can provide for me, my brother was at university in a different town. I wasn’t doing well in school, and when I could I would miss weeks of school. I was so scared of going to school.
After my first year here, I decided to get back to judo. I joined the Budokwai, which is the oldest judo club in Europe. It’s really close to where I live, so I decided to go along to a practice.
I was used to being the best, fastest, and best at generally everything on the mat. I have always been competitive so I made sure I was always the best. However when I stepped onto the mat after nearly 2 years of having quit (15years old by now) I was the fattest, slowest, pretty much the worse judo player on the mat. I was devastated, however I felt home, I felt like I could communicate despite my broken English, I felt confident despite being over weight, and I felt proud to be there. So that kept me coming back! So that’s how I got back into it. Interestingly, when I was 16 I was able to get a bronze medal in the Nationals here, which is a big deal! Only the top players fight at that competition and it tends to be a selection process for GB cadet squad and England Squad. I couldn’t join because I was not yet British.
It took me at least 5 years (until 20yrs old) to get back to a good level. During those 5 years I lost more than 10kg with a healthy diet, training everyday, and doing extra work outs all the time! During those 5 years I also decided that one day I want to go to the Olympic Games, not sure when, but I want to go. My school work also improved.
I am now 22, I feel like those years that I was not training is making me play catch up now in the judo world, but it’s okay, I can be patient (sometimes). I have gained my British passport two years ago, and since then I have gained medals in international competitions including European cups, I have remained in the top 3 in Great Britain for my weight category, and for the first time this year I have gained a medal at the British trials, which gave me a spot on the GB judo team. I also am at university now studying Sports Development.
I still am looking for my objective took to the Olympic Games, and I will carry on doing everything I possibly can, even if it takes a long time. I would love to compete in Tokyo (2020)
For now, I am juggling studying, training, and funding myself to competitions. It’s busy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I have already had a great start to 2016 winning Active Wandsworth sports person of the year and I’m really looking forward to working hard and seeing what else he year brings.
To find out more about Julia head over to her ambassador page here.