Gabriella Wood became the youngest black belt judoka in Trinidad and Tobago at age 18. She is a four-time national women’s judo champion in the +78kg category, and is on the road to becoming the first woman to represent Trinidad and Tobago in Judo at the Olympics (Tokyo 2020).
To understand the commitment, and drive of this 21 year old you have to take a deep dive into the support structure that has made this rising star a success. She attributes her first coach Sensei Mark Litteran, Sensei Nigel Lopez and Sensei Chavez of Cuba as honing her talents, encouraging her to pursue more international competitions, and playing significant roles in her decision to go for Olympic glory.
‘Gabby’ is currently ranked #135 in the world (www.ijf.org/wrl), and shared with me how her passion for judo began.
“I was first introduced to the sport of judo at age eight at my primary school (Maria Regina) through Sensi Mark Litteran, Head Coach at Queen’s Park Judo Club.”
Not a traditionally popular sport, Gabriella was first encouraged by her school principal Elizabeth Crouch to just try it. She became instantly hooked, and started competing in small local tournaments.
Her big break came in 2013 when she won gold in her first regional tournament, The Barbados International Independence Judo Tournament. Two years later she was throwing with the elite juniors in the 2015 Pan American Open for Juniors and Cadets where she took the silver medal in her category.
Gabby describes an emotional moment during the semi-final round of the 2018 CAC Games where she came up against her icon in the sport, three-time Cuban Olympic medallist Idalys Ortiz.
“Words cannot describe what it meant to compete against the current world champion in my sport. I envisioned it but never imagined that it would happen so soon in my career. This was right after I had come out of the International Judo Federation (IJF)’s three-month camp in Hungary.. My talent was quickly identified, and it was then I affirmed to myself that I was going to be seriously committed to this sport.”
Next summer, Gabriella who is also a first year university student in Sports Management at The University of Hertfordshire, London will be vying to be the first female judoka to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the Tokyo Olympics.
She hopes to follow in the footsteps of Christopher George who incidentally was also the first and only TTO judoka to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Gabriella is currently training and competing with other top international athletes through Judo Scotland and admits that the reception from the coaches and her teammates has been exceptional.
“It has been a tremendous experience thus far. I have a wonderful environment to train and give myself the best possible shot at qualifying for Tokyo. My current state of mind is completely focused.”
She gives a quick countdown of the days to Tokyo. “To qualify would mean the world to me and my family, it would validate all the sacrifices I have made thus far. I am hoping to make the Continental Quota which will guarantee me a spot at qualifying for the Olympics.
“I want to qualify for at least three Olympic games, that’s my vision for myself. Beyond the Olympics, in the future I see myself coaching, and working in some capacity for the IJF, travelling the world and getting to be around the sport I am most passionate about.”
Gabby knows the road ahead is a challenge but takes it with her unique blend of quiet confidence and says “Fear not the man who knows ten thousand throws. Fear the man who has done one throw ten thousand times.” Make us proud Gabby!
To earn her place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Gabriella must compete at the following events in 2019:
Paris Grand Slam (France)
Dusseldorf Grand Slam (Germany)
Pan American Open (Peru)
Pan American Open (Chile)
Montreal Grand Prix (Canada)
Budapest Grand Prix (Hungary)
Pan American Games (Peru)
World Senior Championships (Japan)
Pan American Open (Dominican Republic)
Malaga European Open (Spain)
The Hague Grand Prix (Netherlands)
To support Gabriella Wood on the road to Tokyo 2020, make your contribution to- Friends of Judo Foundation Trinidad and Tobago First Citizens Bank Account #2541891
Social media handles Instagram-gwoodie_1 Facebook/ gabrielleawoodjudott
Jamila Cross is a triathlete, former professional footballer for Sevilla FC women’s Club Spain, and mother of three boys Tishad, Akim and Santiago. She is the founder of the Mariama Foundation, a registered non-profit organisation raising the storytelling bar for the Caribbean’s female athletes.