A female Judo athlete who placed fifth at the Canadian Judo Championship last month will take her black belt test this weekend in Quebec, which could see her become the first female judoka in the NWT to earn the coveted belt.
At only 18 years old, Gabrielle Desforges made it to the finals in the senior division for competitors 20 and above at the 2012 Canadian Judo Championship on July 5, where she lost to a girl who has won bronze the last six years. In the youth division, she made it to the semi-finals.
Desforges said it’s a sport that always has a next level. “You can always learn a new move, or get better at this one, become a better fighter or get a new belt … It is one of those sports that is practically never-ending and you can only get better at it,” she said.
For Desforges, that next belt is not just any belt – it’s the black belt – and she could be the first NWT woman with one.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Desforges. “It will make me a good role model to give kids who are younger a goal to reach and to show them that you don’t have to be old to get it, you can still be young and have it.”
Desforges has been actively trying to engage the younger generation to get involved in the sport. For two weeks in July, she ran a camp for young judokas in Yellowknife. The kids were between the ages of 7-12 and ranged in experience level, some entirely new to the sport.
“I got to teach them the new ways I learnt to do techniques this year, and got to make them do awesome games and let them have fun too. It was a good way to give back to the community, and I really appreciated that experience,” said Desforges.
It was Desforges’ father who first encouraged her to get involved with the sport when she was only eight-years-old. They were living in Iqaluit, Nunavut at the time and her father saw a need for a positive outlet for kids that were getting into trouble.
“He figured out that if you can bring judo to the kids, it would give them something else to do and it would give them a goal in life. So he started the program in Iqaluit and I joined it, and it was very addicting,” she said.
Desforges said the sport also gave her a way to channel her energy when she was a kid. “It really helped me through life. I became more focused, more disciplined, and it gave me a good bunch of basic values.”
She said more men compete in the sport up North and that, when she trained in the NWT, she was the only girl judoka. But, she added, it is a sport for any gender.
“I hope what I am doing can actually inspire some younger girls to try to go as far as they can with it, because that would be good for the next generation,” she said.
This past February, she won a gold medal at the Pacific International Championship in BC. Earlier this year, she also travelled to Europe for her first international competition, where the Canadian team placed fourth.
Desforges has received funding from the GNWT, but continues to look for assistance to achieve her ultimate goal of competing at the Olympics.
“That’s my goal for this year, to get some people that want to believe in me and who care about people from the North and, of course, performing well. I am aiming for this season to be top three in the country,” she said.