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Sophie Roberge was inducted into the Judo Canada Hall of Fame at the federation’s Annual Awards and Recognition Gala, which followed the Canadian Open Championships. Her family, friends and all those in Montréal for the occasion were able to pay tribute to an athlete who has continually stood out for her joie de vivre and her determination.
Throughout her career, Roberge never had to force herself to don her judo gi. In fact, she was often the first to arrive at training sessions, and she consistently conveyed her passion for the discipline through her boundless enthusiasm. “Sophie was always in a good mood. It was clear that she loved judo, and she could spend hours training. She was always positive. In fact, she was a force to be reckoned with because she never had any bad days. She always enjoyed judo,” said her former national teammate Marie-Hélène Chisholm, now Judo Canada’s high performance manager. One thing is certain, the judoka from Beauport always succeeded in transposing her enthusiasm onto the tatamis, where she invariably brimmed with confidence, no matter her opponent. “Sophie had a special quality that is rarely seen in athletes. She never backed down from a challenge, and she always believed in herself. Her confidence was unwavering, and her energy level made her a tough opponent every time she fought. She knew how to use it to her advantage,” said her long-time spouse Claude Laflamme, himself a former athlete and judo coach. Roberge’s many qualities, both human and athletic, led her to the biggest sporting event of all in 2000, when she represented Canada at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, finishing 13th in the under-63 kg weight division. Over the course of her career, she also won two Pan-American Championship titles (1999 and 2000) and several international medals. Her third-place finish at the US Open in Las Vegas in 2003, as well as her silver medal at the World University Championships in Jonquière in 1996, will remain etched in her memory forever. “Yes, there were the Olympics and several other major competitions, but when she talks about Jonquière, you can tell there was something special about it,” continued Laflamme. “She defeated some of the best in the world, including Sara Alvarez of Spain in the semi-final. She may not have won the final, but the atmosphere was incredible, and her judo was at its best.” An accomplished woman After competing in the Olympics in 2000, Roberge retired from competition to give birth to her first child, Marie-Michèle. Believing her best years were behind her, she later returned to judo, mainly for enjoyment and love of the sport. However, her results improved, slowly but surely, to the point that she began to travel again to compete all around the world. “She said she was better because she had nothing to lose. She was free, she was doing beautiful judo and it was a great way for her to return to the sport she loved most at a competitive level, even though she had given birth to our child. She proved it was possible,” explained Laflamme. Although Roberge did not qualify for the Athens Olympics in 2004, she celebrated the arrival of baby Thomas less than a year later, and of Raphaël in 2007, officially marking the end of her athletic career. Although she has retired, judo continues to be part of her DNA. Hence, she has never stayed away from the tatamis for long. Whether it be as an instructor at Cégep de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue in the physical education and police training departments, or in the extracurricular judo classes she teaches, she continues to transmit her passion with her usual enthusiasm. “Even at the age of 49, she never stops, from morning to night!” said her husband. “It’s really important to Sophie to give back and to allow young people to dream. She’s appreciated everywhere she goes. She continues to lead by example and to be fully committed to all her projects. It speaks very well of her!” Roberge is humble about her sports career, but she has left her own mark on Canadian judo, which is why her name now appears alongside those of the greatest judokas in the nation’s history. “She doesn’t talk about her years as an athlete or her achievements very often, because she’s always saying you shouldn’t live in the past. However, I know she’s very happy about this honour, because she has put a lot of effort in and is an excellent example of determination. She should be proud of herself,” concluded Laflamme. True to her word, Sophie Roberge is now looking ahead to a new challenge, where she can put her unique personality to good use.