Last February, Tammy Thornton accomplished what no other Canadian woman had done in over ten years: She officiated at an International Judo Federation (IJF) Grand Slam tournament. Despite the magnitude of her accomplishment, she has remained humble, while continuing to pave the way for the next generation of girls on the tatamis.
The Albertan finally fulfilled her dream of becoming an international referee in Tel Aviv, Israel. She was the first Canadian woman to do so since the IJF circuit was revamped in 2011.
“It was incredible! I was extremely nervous before the competition, but the other referees were very welcoming, and everything went well. It was an amazing experience, and I’m looking forward to doing it again,” said Thornton, for whom the opportunity was the culmination of 30 years of hard work.
After being introduced to judo at the age of ten, Thornton pursued an athletic career that saw her compete at the national championships on several occasions in the late 1990s. Her sports career then took on a new direction when one of her coaches encouraged her to referee, in order to “give back to her sport.” She did not know it at the time, but it was to be the beginning of a long and rewarding adventure.
“I started doing it for fun as I reached the end of my career as an athlete, and I’ve never stopped,” she said with a laugh.
Slowly but surely, Thornton began to enjoy her new role. In order to gain as much experience as possible, she made her start at the local and provincial levels. A few years later, she began to officiate at provincial and national competitions.
Thornton, who continually stood out for her diligence and passion, rose through the ranks to attain Judo Canada’s highest standards of excellence. In 2018, the federation encouraged her to obtain her international certification from the IJF.
“At that point, I realized it was a real possibility, that I could reach the highest levels, just like my male colleagues,” she explained. “I was often told I had what it took, and then it actually became attainable. It was awesome!”
More than four years of hard work and learning experiences later, she finally got the call she was waiting for.
“Judo Canada sent in my application, and I was selected. It was an amazing opportunity for me, and I’m very proud to have been rewarded for my work,” said Thornton, who is not done demonstrating her savoir-faire in the world of judo.
Aiming ever higher, just like the athletes
Tammy Thornton admits to being more motivated than ever to continue to progress as an official. The schoolteacher by profession will be busy in the coming year, with several new international competitions already lined up.
She will officiate at the Astana Grand Prix in Kazakhstan in June, as well as at several International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) events in July. From there, her objective will be to secure new assignments for the start of the 2023-24 season next September and to move another step closer to achieving her greatest sports goals.
“Everybody dreams of making it to the Olympics or to the World Championships. If I want to get there, I absolutely have to maintain the same level of excellence,” explained Thornton, who has served as president of Judo Alberta’s referee committee and women’s committee, as well as representing her province at the first Judo Canada Women’s Summit in 2018.
“Above all, I do it for love of the sport. To me, it’s like a big family, and this is simply my way of helping move things forward.”
The mother of three has made it her mission to pass on her knowledge whenever possible, as well as to proudly represent all the women in her sport who are just as ambitious as she is.
“There are a lot more girls in judo than when I started, which is fantastic to see. Working with the IJF, I’ve come to realize how new women are to the sport, and it’s very cool to think that I could become a role model for the next group. I started at the bottom, and I received a lot of help along the way. Now, I have to do the same for them.”