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Judo in the time of Covid-19: Amber Gersjes
22 May 2020 08:25
Being a European and World Junior Champion doesn't guarantee success at the Senior level. Read Amber Gersjes’ story by Oon Yeoh of JudoCrazy.
JIC: Is it true you started judo at the age of 2?
AG: Yes, both my mom and dad had done judo and knew it would be good for my mobility and development. They had always enjoyed judo and wanted to have the same experience.
JIC: I suppose you don’t have any memory of what it was like at first. Did you have to grow into liking judo or have you liked it all along? When did you starting loving judo?
AG: I literally don’t have any memory of life without judo and I don’t recall ever not liking it. I think I started to love it at a young age but since it’s just always been there, I think at first, I didn’t recognize it as love for judo. I think my love for judo became clearer when I had to make conscious choices between judo and other activities, in which case I always chose judo. So, it must have been love!
JIC: Would it be correct to say judo is your life?
AG: Well, I wouldn’t exactly say judo is my life because there’s definitely more to my life than judo. But it is a big part of who I am. Perhaps a more accurate way to put it would be to say that I wouldn’t be me without judo. Judo helped me — and still does, every day — to be the best version of myself.
JIC: You started competing internationally in 2012 as a cadet. What made you decide to go down that route and did you realize just how much commitment that would entail?
AG: It wasn’t a very clear decision; I just did what I loved and at some point, that meant going abroad regularly. When I started training in Rotterdam at 11, and I had to travel around three hours to and from every day, it became clear that I needed to be committed.
JIC: When you compare your life to that of other girls your age, as you were growing up, did you feel you missed out on some things?
AG: Never. I’ve always preferred a good training over a party. Of course, I like hanging out with my friends but I would never let it come between me and my trainings. As for other girls, I actually always felt like they were the ones missing out. In middle school, I would be going on cool trips for judo every month while my friends were just staying at home. So, no regrets. Of course, I can’t say there haven’t been moments when my mom had to give me a hug because I had to miss that party where my friends were at or for that one boy I really liked. But there’s no question I’m happy with my decision to prioritize judo.
JIC: You’ve been quoted as saying Mark Huizinga is a hero of yours. He was known to be almost fanatical in his studying of videos to figure out how to fight opponents. Do you study videos a lot too?
AG: Nope, not at all. Over-analyzing is deathly for my judo. So, in that sense, I’m not like him. What I like about Mark is that he got to know himself so well, and was able to develop a total strategy what works best for him. I think this is key in being a top-level athlete.
JIC: Can you describe what your working relationship is like with your coach?
AG: I’m always asking a lot of questions of my coach, Michael Bazynski, because I want to know why I’m doing certain things, even when it comes to the little things like why we are doing 22 or 24 seconds in a Tabata training. Instead of being annoyed by it, he is always very clear with his answers. This is of course not something we can always do for everything but I think we’ve found a good balance between the things he should explain to me and the moments I when I just have to shut my mouth and listen to what he tells me to do. Ha… ha...
JIC: What do you consider to be a coach’s most valuable role in a player’s career?
AG: I think it’s to provide new insights on how to develop my judo and giving me moral support. To know that my coach is always there when I need that little push, or a hug, or just a talk. To know there is always that one person, your coach, who wants the best for your career, that’s reassuring. Of course, my parents are always there, and of course when it comes to things like injuries, they will naturally want what they feel is best for my body to heal. But in certain situations, it requires a certain specialized knowledge and experience to know how far the boundaries can be pushed and yet be safe. My coach knows what I need and he knows what my body can take when it comes to training. So far, I’ve been fortunate to get to work with great coaches, from my home club in Tilburg where I started, to Rotterdam where I could work with high-level coaches like Mark van der Ham, Gé van den Elshout and the legendary Chris de Korte. And now, of course, I’m in Papendal where I trained under John van der Meer and now Michael Bazynski.
JIC: In 2017, you had a great period where you won the European Junior and World Junior gold medals. Your entry into the Senior scene was also in 2017 at The Hague Grand Prix where you lost in your first match. What was your reaction to the realities of senior judo?
AG: Very soon after achieving those junior medals I stepped into the senior field. That was a pretty big step and frankly, too abrupt for me. In our system it’s not common to get much senior experience before you’re actually a senior, and this makes it harder for some of us to make that transition from junior to senior. In junior judo, the gap between players is bigger. At senior judo, there isn’t much of a gap so it’s much more competitive. The Hague was an amazing experience, so it didn’t bother me too much that I lost. I’m looking forward to gaining more experience as a senior and I think the future looks bright.
JIC: You sound like someone who has a lot of self-belief. Are you a confident person?
AG: My self-belief is just fine. I do believe in myself so there are no shortcomings in that area. But sometimes certain things can rock your confidence. The step from juniors to seniors has been pretty rough for me so, I have to admit something like that has affected my confidence. But that’s normal I think, and I’ve been working on it. I believe I can do anything I set my mind on, and the road I am on right now will only make me stronger as an athlete and as a person.
JIC: At the national training centre in Papendal are there enough girls your size and your level to allow you to have adequate randori?
AG: It’s hard sometimes because we don’t have many high-level, lightweight girls. We try to make do with what we have. At the national trainings, I train mostly with -52kg girls but there are many lightweight boys who are great to fight with.
JIC: Are you now back at home in Tilburg because of the lock-down?
AG: No, I’m in my apartment near to Papendal. There are some fitness facilities nearby so even though I love to be home it seemed a logical choice to stay here so I can do some training despite the restrictive circumstances.
JIC: As a national athlete, are you sponsored by your government to train at Papendal?
AG: I have to pay to train at Papendal. I know it sounds a bit crazy but that’s the way it is over here.
JIC: Do you have any corporate sponsors?
AG: I work with New Care Supplements. They are truly great, always helping me out whenever I need vitamins. Matsuru provides me with judogis and other clothing. Claxion came on board last year, and I’m proudly driving a BMW because of that. I’m very happy to have them as a sponsor because I’m a bit of a car fan.
JIC: Speaking of cars, do you drive home often?
AG: Home is near enough that I can drive back whenever I feel like it. I usually go home for the weekends, even if it’s just for one day. I like to visit my grandparents, have dinner with the family and spend time with my brother, Boris. Simple things like going out for groceries with my dad gives me great pleasure, not only because I get to pick the ice cream, but because it’s a kind of relaxing, quality time activity for us.
JIC: What’s your favorite type of ice cream?
AG: Hmm… it seems like you saved the hardest question for last! I would have to say frozen yoghurt, especially from Frozi Yogi in my hometown, Tilburg. Real Italian ice cream, licorice flavor, I’ll also never get enough of.
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