Kimberly Ribble, from Daniel LaRusso to Mr. Miyagi

Transition of athletes into coaches to develop judo further
10 December 2021
David Popovici leads the Canadian delegation in Aix-en-Provence
12 December 2021

After an athletic career that took her all the way to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, it was obvious to Kimberly Ribble that she would remain active in the world of judo. She was already a coach before she retired and wanted to continue in that direction. She has been successfully doing so for the past 20 years.

Kimberly’s mission is to positively influence the lives of each of her students. She likes to compare herself to Mr. Miyagi from the movie Karate Kid in her approach to teaching.

“Mentorship has always been a passion of mine. I love to follow an athlete from his first steps in judo to the end of his career. I also enjoy understanding the behaviours of athletes, both on and off the mat. I hope to use judo as a tool to bring out the best in a person.”

The pandemic did not slow Sensei Ribble down, she turned to virtual classes. To her surprise, this digital shift attracted a new clientele to judo.

“The virtual classes were open to everyone, and the kids who latched on the most to these classes weren’t necessarily the ones you’d see in the gyms usually. I feel like the pandemic brought in a lot of kids who had never done sports before. They see judo as a new way to express themselves.”

Selected as a recipient of Judo Canada’s Gender Equity Committee for her involvement, she is currently working on a self-defence program that will be offered soon. This project is of paramount importance for the Ontarian.

“I’ve taught self-defence classes in the past and it’s something that is so important to everyone, in my opinion. You never know when you’re going to be in a tough situation and I’m sure that having a basic self-defence knowledge can save lives. This will be a program that will become indispensable.”

A rocky road to Sydney

Kimberly began her judo career at a young age with the goal of achieving her dream of becoming a ninja, or following in the footsteps of Daniel LaRusso. After several years of training at a recreational club, it was at the age of 17 that her athletic career really took off when she made the transition to a more competitive club.

The athlete had 10 years to prepare for the Sydney Olympics, which was her main goal. As has been the case throughout her career, there were many injuries and challenges before she reached that ultimate goal.

It was at the 1999 British Open that she says she had the best moment of her career. Shortly after recovering from knee surgery, the judoka defeated the world champion and then the world silver medallist, one after the other, all in a matter of seconds.

“I didn’t understand what I was doing on the same mat as these two women. I won my first fight in about 5 seconds. I used the same technique in my second fight, and it worked. I didn’t understand anything. It gave me a lot of confidence for the Olympics coming up.

The Sydney Games obviously hold a special place in her memory, even though, once again, an injury abruptly ended her Olympic journey.

‘In my first fight, I had to fight a medallist from the Atlanta Olympics. She went after my knee, but I was able to get up. I did everything I could to come back from behind. I don’t know why, but in the intensity of the fight, I heard a crack and immediately knew my foot was broken.’

‘It was extremely intense, but I’m really grateful that I was able to have this experience in my career. I am happy every time I think about Sydney, even though it didn’t end the way I would have liked.’

“I never want to stop”

Kimberly can’t even count the number of injuries she’s had in her career. But she knows she had 33 surgeries, not all of them judo related. Her most recent injury? A scooter accident less than two weeks ago.

“I don’t know why I never want to stop. After my scooter accident, I have difficulty walking, but I still teach my virtual classes. The kids don’t understand what keeps me going either. It’s the sacred fire, the passion for the sport, I guess!

One thing is sure, she still has the fire. In fact, she followed Jessica Klimkait and Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard at the Tokyo Games last summer, where they became the first Canadian women to win Olympic medals in judo.

“I am so proud and happy to see the girls being so successful. The coaches are doing a tremendous job, not only for the women, but for the entire Canadian team to bring the athletes to the highest level.”

Kimberly Ribble concludes with a wish to continue to see Judo Canada shine on the international scene. Observing the rise of stars like Shady ElNahas, she is confident that it is only a matter of time before a Canadian reaches the top of an Olympic podium.


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