It’s just weeks until the new Foyle Arena opens its doors to the public with its new swimming pool and state of the art leisure facilities.
But one group of people looking forward to the opening more than most are the coaches and students at the city’s Judo in the Park Club.
Judo in the Park will be the host club at the new state of the art leisure facilities at St Columb’s Park. The club which boasts more than 80 members and five UKCC qualified coaches have taken up residence at Lisneal College for the past 18 months while building work is completed.
Coach Jim Toland, a man whose name has become synonymous with judo in Derry over the years, says there’s never been a better time to do judo.
“The club has been up and running now for more than seven years,” said Jim. “Going back 15 years a previous club had folded so we started it back up through the Place of Sport programme with Derry City Council. As the officer for Derry City Council for sports development it was my job to get judo going in the Waterside again. At the time there were no clubs going in the Waterside and no coaches qualified.”
Once established the group began looking at how to get mats and equipment but their firm goal was to get a Clubmark, a feat they finally achieved in 2013. They are currently the only local club to have achieved this Clubmark from Sport Northern Ireland.
Five coaches train at the club, two UK Level 2 and three level 3.
The new judo centre at Foyle Arena is set to become a major venue for judo competitions for the Judo in the Park Club as hosts and other clubs across the city.
Jim revealed that already a number of top competitions have been secured for the new venue including the All Ireland Judo Championships, the All Ireland University Judo Championships, a City of Culture legacy event, as well as coach training, children’s and referee events.
Looking back Derry has a rich history in success at judo with Lisa Bradley securing the silver Commonwealth medal and Lisa Kearney’s bronze.
“We’re looking for a gold now,” said Jim. “But judo is about so much more than winning a medal or becoming a champion. It’s about having fun. As a self defence art everyone should so it. Taking part in competition teaches the competitors how to win and lose, losing will always be part of any sport. If you don’t learn to be a good loser you can never be a good winner.
“A big part of judo is the etiquette and total respect. That starts from the bow that we always do at the start.”
One of the club’s shining lights is 14 year-old British Champion Kirsty Strouds McCallion.
“I started judo when I was ten,” said Kirsty. “I was at a Summer camp that did judo and I loved it so I joined the club.”
Kirsty says a lot of training has to go into judo if you want to compete at the top level.
“I’d like to see how far I could go with it,” she said. “But I don’t like to set myself goals because I don’t want to be disappointed.
“I’d like to see more girls doing judo, we need more girls coming up. Give it a go.”
Children can begin judo lessons from the age of five and all players train on a double mat area on Friday nights. Many of the judo pupils are now competing at national and international events and many of them had the opportunity to take part in the City of Culture judo tournament at The Venue in 2013.;
For more information please log on to www. judointhepark.co.uk