Christina Salmond always wanted to make it back into a judo dojo.
After leaving the sport following her senior year of high school to "go to college, get my degree and go on with my life," the 32-year-old Glen Burnie resident swore she would one day return to the sport she started training in at the age of 8.
But as life went on and other priorities took over — Salmond currently works full-time as a web developer for the University of Maryland's medical school in Baltimore and is studying for a master's degree in information systems at UMBC — it took a little shove from someone close to Salmond to get her back on the mat.
"There's no professional judo in the U.S. So I was either going to focus on training and judo or get an education and have a career. It was a tough decision," Salmond said. "It was more of I wanted to take a break for a while. Then life happens. It was never convenient to go to practice. I always thought I would go back. It just wasn't working with my life.
"I picked it back up because my brother came back into town and had started back into judo. He decided he missed it and when he came to town he said, 'I want to go to practice and you're coming with me.' When I practiced with him it was amazing. It was like I never stopped. I loved it and kept training."
Now, following seven top-three finishes in competitions since January, not only has Salmond found her way back to the sport she loves, but she's become a dominant figure in the judo world and is ranked as the third-best fighter in the +78kg weight class by USA Judo.
Most recently, Salmond, who trains at the Baltimore Judo Club, took gold at the President's Cup in Vail, Colo., on June 4. Her next competition — the Judo World Cup — is scheduled for July 1-2 in Miami, Fla., and serves as a qualifier for the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Nearly 300 athletes from 30 different countries are expected to attend the competition, and depending on how well she does, Salmond, a first-degree black belt or 'Shodan,' could find herself representing the United States in judo next summer in London.
"Every sport has its thing," said Matthew Salmond, Christina's brother. "We were just talking about the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup, and if she could win [the Judo World Cup] in Miami, it'd be like her winning the Stanley Cup."
"She certainly is up there within the top three in her weight class among the U.S. competitors," Tomas Drgon, a fellow first-degree black belt at the Baltimore Judo Club, said in an email. "But she will have to face the international competition, players that she has never competed against, so it is hard to predict."
Salmond started practicing judo due in large part to her brother. After following him to a wrestling practice, she soon found out that wrestling wasn't very "female friendly" and decided to try something else.
"A friend of my brother at the wrestling club I was working out with did judo, too," Salmond said. "He invited me out and I saw all of these women. I said, 'Forget wrestling, this is what I want to do.'"
Salmond started training with sensei Ken Tamai at the age of 8, and she credits him with being the person most influential to her success today.
"He was there when I first started," Salmond said of Tamai, who died several years ago. "He encouraged people to be great competitors, but it was always about improving your technique and fundamentals first and foremost."
Now — even after an extended stint away from the mat — Salmond has rediscovered what she learned under Tamai as a youth, and the results have been all positive.
"A lot of it comes down to her earlier training," Drgon said of her success. "Those skills, the dynamic stereotypes that one builds at that age, stay in your brain, so when she came back to competitive judo, it came back to her really fast."
But even with all the success in judo, if you met Salmond in person, the image of a dangerous fighter isn't the first thing that comes to mind, according to those close to her.
"I'm very proud of her. She's a great fighter," her brother said. "It's funny because when you look at her and talk to her, you'd never expect that side of her — that she can throw a full-grown man on the ground and choke him out. She's such a nice and pleasant person that you wouldn't expect that."
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