In the past few decades, the popularity of judo in Canada has increased thanks to judokas like Nicolas Gill and Antoine Valois-Fortier, who won medals at the Olympic Games and inspired future athletes to try out their sport. The next generation of great athletes is in the making, and Benjamin Kendrick is there to lead the way.
Looking at his family’s history, it’s easy to see that Benjamin was destined to become a great judoka: both his parents were on the national team in the 80’s and 90’s, and his mother went to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Despite being retired from competitive judo, Nathalie Gosselin and James Kendrick are still very involved in the judo community. Growing up in a judo family inspired Benjamin to start training very young. He quickly fell in love with the sport, for which he had a natural talent. Around age 10, he started training more seriously, and that was the beginning of a path towards success. He competed at his first Nationals at 13, his first Pan American Championships at 16, and got his first international podium, a bronze medal at Worlds, at 17.
“I don’t want to sound cocky, but I’ve always felt I was more talented than average. I’ve always believed I had the potential to become the best in my category. I take my training very seriously,” explains Kendrick. “My life is much simpler now that I’m carded, I don’t have to work to pay for my tournaments like I used to do, but I don’t take anything for granted. I see it as a motivation to get even better, and I’m improving every time I step on the mat.”
For his parents, seeing their son following their path is a great source of pride. “We wanted him to learn judo, because we think the values taught in the dojo are also very valuable in life. Knowing that he enjoys it so much and performs well is a bonus. Having been athletes ourselves, we understand what he’s going through, whether good or bad. We’re here to help him, but we also want to give him enough space to experience this his own way.” They also enjoy the fact that the judo community in Canada is a big family. “It’s always funny for us to see people who used to be our teammates who are now coaching our son. We’ve met a lot of people during our competitive years, and it’s nice to see that they are still involved in judo. We know our son is in good hands with them.”
Benjamin is still young, he doesn’t know yet if he’ll stick around when he retires. “I still love it and hope I’ll be competing for many more years, but we never know what can happen. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do once I retire, but I’m an ‘all or nothing’ kind of guy, so I’ll either stay very involved in judo or go in a completely different direction. For now, I’m focusing on what’s coming up, one event at a time. It’s my first year in U21, but I feel very confident for Nationals in Calgary. I’m going for nothing less than a gold medal.”
The U21 category will be in action during the 2018 Canadian Open Judo Championships in Calgary on Saturday, May 19. All info about the event, including a complete schedule, can be found on http://www.judonationals.org/.
Written by Sarah Mailhot for Judo Canada