October 21, 2010: Local Judo Athlete Plays On
Local Judo Athlete Plays On
By Jude Haynes
What do Pierre Trudeau, his children and Brian Mulroney’s children have in common with an average Canadian named Tony Walby? They all practiced judo at the Takahashi Dojo on Melrose Street.
It’s safe to say that most Canadians know who the Trudeaus and the Mulroneys are. But to a lesser extent, Walby is also publicly known.
A competitive judo athlete, he was recently featured in the Ottawa Sun after winning two gold medals at the Pan Am Championships this past Labour Day weekend. What made winning those medals even more interesting is the fact that he’s legally blind and he dominated over his sighted competitors.
Walby started judo training when he was seven and recalls his very first competition was when he was about eight or nine years old. His first major international competition was when he was about 13 or 14.
He’s won 12 senior national medals and was the senior heavy weight national champion in 2008. He joined other high level judoka who’ve put their gies on the mat of the Takahashi dojo, and made history in the sport both in Canada and abroad.
Phil Takahashi, son of dojo founder Masao Takahashi, was a three-time Olympian and world medalist. His younger sister, Tina Takahashi, was Canada’s first woman’s judo Olympic coach. She and Canada’s first woman’s judo Olympian, Sandra Greaves, trained at the dojo for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Walby expressed how he felt when Phil Takahashi won his first world medal. “I’d been in the club just under a year when he won that gold medal and it was sort of an awe-inspiring thing to see,” he said.
He also remembers being inspired when Tina Takahashi and Greaves trained at the dojo. “Training with them as a 13, 14 year old kid was great because you see how great they can do and you’re like I can throw this person, I can throw this person, I can do it,” he recalled.
Walby credits Tina Takahashi as the reason he became involved in judo in the first place. He said she was a student teacher at his school and she ran an afterschool program, which he joined.
Canadian judo Olympian Nicolas Gill has been a great influence and also rival and he caused Walby’s most negative experience in his long judo career. “I retired from competition in ’98, mainly because I couldn’t keep up with the top rank guy; I couldn’t keep up with Nicolas Gill,” Walby said. “In my head I couldn’t beat him, so if I can’t beat him in my head, I can’t beat him on the mat. So, I retired and I’ve always regretted giving up,” he added.
But that retirement only applied to competitive judo. Walby continued to train in the dojo every day. Two years later, he Continued on page 20
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was back on the judo competition circuit, but in a different weight class from Gill.
He continued to compete until he won the Nationals in 2008, which he said was one of his most memorable moments in judo. He was 35 at the time and he said he was one of the oldest men on the mat, almost twice as old as other competitors.
After winning the Nationals in ’08, he retired from competing again, and like the first time, he came out of retirement two years later.
“Earlier this year I found out that my visual impairment qualifies me to compete for our national visually impaired team and possibly have a shot at the Paralympics. So it wasn’t hard to jump back into competing,” he explained.
Walby said winning a Paralympic medal would make him feel that he has accomplished all of his goals. After that, he plans to retire from competing for the final time, anticipating that his age and sport injuries will degrade his performance.
After his final retirement from competing, Walby said he will stay involved in Judo. Coaching is another aspect of the sport he really enjoys, so he’ll focus on that.
He also wants to promote judo among Canada’s visually impaired population. He said it’s the only martial art that is fully suited to visually impaired people. Because there’s a lot of grabbing, gripping, grappling and touching, it’s a sport with possibility for the blind to compete along with the sighted.
“The one thing that I say to everyone that I coach is that success is not winning and losing. Success is being better today than you were yesterday,” he said.