This week's blog is superbly written by Sarah Jones who competting in wrestling at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
I took up wrestling in 2008. I received a text message from an old judo team mate and until that day I had no idea what the sport involved let alone that there was a team in Scotland. It wasn’t even on my radar. The message was simple: "The Scottish Wrestling Association are interested in increasing the number of female wrestlers in order to field a team at The Commonwealth Games in 2010, are you interested?"
That message changed the direction my life took from that point on and two Commonwealth Games and six years later I still love the sport as much today as I did the first time I took to the mat.
I started out, like many children do, in the conventional sports of gymnastics and swimming. I competed in both at various levels before finally settling into judo at the age of 10. A brief taster course that I had requested to do with a friend and my sister during the school holidays was enough to whet the appetite and we soon became members of The Royal Commonwealth Pool Judo club. It was here that I fell in love with contact sport. My sister and I continued to train and progress through our belts before beginning our competitive careers. I don’t think I have ever asked my mother how she felt about sending her daughters off to participate in a fighting sport. I don’t imagine that when she enrolled us in the taster course that summer she envisaged spending endless hours for many years to come sitting mat side at training and competition venues watching her three children (my younger brother had since taken up the sport too) being thrown, pinned, arm locked and strangled, while we tried to do the same to our opponents. I am eternally grateful for the support that my mother has given me during my career, be that in her role of taxi driver, financer or supporter. Never pushy, but always supporting me to be the best I could be.
During my judo career I was a Scottish and British International retiring in 2006 when I decided I had achieved as much as I was capable of. At this juncture I thought that my competitive career in sport had ended. I moved to from Edinburgh to Glasgow to study Physiotherapy and decided that I would join Watsonians Rugby Football club where my sister played. This was my first experience of team sport since my school years and I loved it. I enjoyed the camaraderie and that you put your body on the line for the team and they did the same for you. I was lucky to be selected to be part of the Scotland rugby development squad shortly after I took up the sport; however my involvement was cut short when I ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament in my knee. Luckily for me this occurred after I had been issued a sizable bag of kit and before they realised that while I could tackle I was incompetent with a ball in hand.
It was during my recovery from my knee injury following surgery that the aforementioned message arrived. From that moment on my focus became getting ready to go back on the mat. When I retired from judo I believed that the opportunity to compete in events such as the Commonwealth Games, something I had dreamt of doing as a child, were beyond reach and the possibility of being able to do so gave me a new drive.
Wrestling has some similarities to judo in that the aim is to throw or pin your opponents to score points, however unlike judo the fights have two three minute rounds and are won if you move ten points clear of your opponent or pin them on their back. The sporting attire is also somewhat different. I don’t recall being warned by my fellow former judo team mates who had also made the transition from judo to wrestling before me that the sport involved far less clothing than we were accustomed to. No longer would I be competing in a judo gi (judo suit), rather I would soon be donning a lycra wrestling singlet and a pair of boots, not the most forgiving of outfits I can assure you! Shortly after taking up the sport I unfortunately returned to the operating table to have knee surgery once more after re-rupturing my anterior cruciate ligament. On my return to the mat some six months later the race was on to be ready for what would be both my first competition and more importantly the first Commonwealth Games qualifier I would fight in.
I can’t recall my first ever judo competition or who I fought that day, but I will never forget my competitive debut in wrestling. It was the Commonwealth Championships in Jalandahar, India in December 2009. I fought the South African number one and to my surprise (and I imagine everyone else’s too) I won the first round after scoring points with a textbook throw. The next round went less favourably and I lost but I loved every minute of it.
I qualified and competed in my first Commonwealth Games, New Delhi in 2010 finishing in an agonising 4th place after a narrow defeat to Nigeria in my Bronze medal match. The whole Commonwealth Games experience was exhilarating and with Glasgow 2014 on the horizon the following four years were focused on doing everything I could to make the podium in front of the home crowd.
Glasgow 2014 was every bit as amazing as I had dreamt it would be, however sadly my preparation could not have been worse with a series of injuries resulting in too little mat training time for me to compete at my best. I didn’t make it to the podium, something I remain hugely disappointed about, but I am proud to have been one of only 310 Scottish athletes fortunate enough to have been able to compete in front of a home crowd filled with my family and friends.
I have gained a huge amount during my journey through various sports. I have been able to travel the world with my friends and see amazing places and do amazing things. I have enjoyed the highs and lows that elite sport brings, but also realised that you don’t have to be at elite level to reap the rewards of participating in sport. Some of my favourite sporting memories come from playing rugby with my teammates who have become lifelong friends on a dreary Sunday afternoon while having more points than I care to remember put past us. I hope that more people, inspired by The Games, go out and try sport, at whatever level they are capable of and have just as much fun as I did along the way!