Jessica Klimkait, the first Canadian woman to ever win an Olympic medal in judo, shares more on her early start in martial art and how she hopes to inspire the future of women in judo.
What inspired your love for judo?
My love for judo started at the age of 4. I had so much energy as a kid, and it was an activity that captivated all of my senses. It took physical effort, mental focus and most of all creativity. I loved how I could find my own style in the techniques that I would execute.
Have you encountered any obstacles as a woman in sport? If so, what kept you moving forward?
Yes, being a woman in sport can be difficult. Combat sports have been dominated by males since their inception. When addressing things I needed in my training, sometimes it felt as though my views and opinions were taken less seriously because I was a girl. It can be hard to stick up for what you want and need sometimes, but with an added layer of stereotypes of girls in sports, it is even harder.
To overcome this I decided to work as hard as I possibly could, to let my results speak for me. Over time my results gave me the confidence and validation to continue to ask for what I need in training.
Aside from winning the World Judo Championships last year, what has been the highlight of your sports career?
While winning a Bronze Medal at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics was a proud moment for me, the highlight in my sports career had to have been winning the Tokyo Grand Slam in 2018. It is one of the most prestigious competitions on the world circuit due to the dominance that Japan has in our sport. I became the first, and only Canadian to ever win this competition.
What do you hope to see for the future of women in judo?
I hope to see an influx of young girls in judo in the future. It is a sport that has brought me so much confidence, as well as so many cool experiences. When I was younger, I only had males to look up to in the sport. I hope that my success can show girls that they too, can be a girl from Canada and succeed in a martial art like judo.
If you could give one piece of advice to young women in sport, what would it be?
When I was around 16, I debated stopping the sport altogether. I felt as though I was missing out on life. While I was devoting all my energy to training twice a day, and missing out on seeing friends due to my constant travelling, I had friends who were discussing their plans for university and doing normal teenage things. After speaking with my coaches about this, they explained to me that anyone can live a normal life, but what I was trying to do with mine was something special.
I was thankful for this conversation, as it urged me to stay in the sport. I began to realize over time that a normal life waited for me after retirement. I would have missed out on so many experiences if I had kept a short-term vision.