Thank you to Rachael Hawkes for this report from her recent competitions in Africa. Inspiring and insightful.
The African Opens 2021, Dakar and Yaoundé
Due to the pandemic, it has been difficult to obtain opportunities to compete. Despite this myself and the team have been training hard all year in preparation. When I was selected to proudly represent Ireland at the two African Opens in Dakar and Yaoundé, I was delighted. These world ranking events are an opportunity to fight judoka that we would not usually have the opportunity to fight against. It is an eye opener to the many different styles of judo each country has developed. As with all international competitions there is a lot of advance organisation, and I was kept busy with the activity of accreditation, travel, packing, the draw and the weigh-in, but this all adds to the experience. Fighting in these countries allowed me to see new cultures and meet fellow judoka from wonderful countries.
On the day of the competition, I was a little nervous as it was a long time since I had last competed, but I was super excited and after a strong warm up with my teammates and a good chat through the fight with my coach I always felt ready to go out and give it my all. The fighters were very physically strong and intense but remaining calm, sticking to the plan, and listening to my coach helped my through to the final in Cameroon. Unfortunately, I lost the final but with a week to correct mistakes and rest up for a second opportunity to top the podium I refocused and thought forward to Senegal.
After flying to Dakar, Senegal, we trained at a local club. This gave me a chance to fine tune my judo and to engage with fighters from the local area. On fight day in Senegal, I felt determined to win gold. After winning my first fight I felt confident I could keep up the momentum but remained focused on each fight. The second fight went into golden score. The fight was getting tougher, but I felt fit and focused on what advice my coach was giving me. Finally, I threw for a waza-ari score and I was through to the final. After a break in competition and another warm-up running through specific drills, and the best encouragement from my team, it was time to fight the final against a judoka from the home nation. In the second exchange I managed to throw for waza-ari and hold my opponent down to win the gold. Absolute happiness! After a little celebration with my coach, it was time to finally stand on top of the podium and travel home from a successful trip with a silver and gold medal and some world ranking points that will help me climb the world rankings.
My top tip to any judoka, and one that my coach gave me is to focus on each fight exchange. Winning each fight exchange at a time will lead to winning the fight. Keep the focus on each exchange rather than the whole day of fighting or the medals. Furthermore, a well prepared warm up, where you rehearse your fight plan and individual throws will get your body and mind ready to fight with confidence and help prevent any injuries. Fighting internationally for Ireland is a brilliant experience. The team spirit, preparing and celebrating together is a unique feeling that definitely spurs you on to be your best and brings many laughs. A bonus of the experience was the excitement of winning the Dakar final to grab the gold and stand on top of the podium for Ireland. This was particularly exciting after losing out on the gold to win silver in Yaoundé.
This was a wonderful experience. Thank you to Irish judo for selecting me and to our coach, Paul Green, who expertly coached me through both competitions. This is just the beginning, and I am hoping this is the start of more medal winning moments.