In early 2011, Jeff Allen might have laughed if you told him he would become a national judo champion.
After all, he had never even tried the sport.
It was four years ago, and the young Huntsville dad was looking for an activity he could get involved in to spend some quality time with his then six-year-old son, Lucas.
They picked judo and started training together, for fun. Now Jeff is off to the World Judo Championships.
What started as an athletic hobby quickly became something more. In Jeff’s first judo competition, mere months after taking up the sport, he threw a heavily favoured and far more experienced brown-belt competitor to the mat. In that tournament, something awoke in the spirited fighter who was just beginning to understand how good he could be.
“That was it. I was hooked,” he recalls.
Fast forward three and a half years, where Jeff has continued to progress at a blistering pace, earning over 20 competition medals, his own brown belt along the way and winning a gold medal in the heavyweight division at the Canadian National Championships in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu in June.
“There are a lot of good people around me to train with, and they have shown me a lot,” explains Allen of his success, referring to his training partners at Phil Makela’s Huntsville Judo Club. In addition to practicing with Lucas, now 10, Jeff also receives guidance from dojo sensei Makela, and legendary judoka Ron Murihead.
“I learned a lot from my sensei, who is a black belt and does some really good judo, as well as Ron, who is a sixth degree black belt. He’s at a really high level and has been around forever, and is a veteran in the sport for sure.”
Since becoming a national champion three months ago, Allen has been eager to take his game to the next level against the very best judoka in the world. That journey officially now, as the Huntsville dad boards a flight to the Netherlands where he will be representing his country at the World Veterans Judo Championships in Amsterdam, which start on September 19.
“I’m proud, really happy and honoured to be able to go over and represent Canada in such a huge tournament,” says Allen. “It’s one thing to go to a national event, but to be able to represent your country, that’s another thing entirely.”
Competing on the world stage at the highest level of his sport does not come without a significant financial cost, however. Allen has been soliciting support from the community in order to make his dream a reality.
“If you have a family and a busy life it’s hard to find the time to train, and at this level you have to put the time in,” says Allen. “Trying to raise money to get there is a part of it too. It’s a very expensive trip to go over there and compete, but it will be well worth it.”
Part of Allen’s fundraising involved talking to and finding sponsorship from local businesses, beginning right where he worked at Muskoka Auto Parts who became his main sponsor. The support only increased from there, as numerous other organizations around town, Allen’s home club, and friends and family all contributed to help make Allen’s trip possible.
“Being from a small community like Huntsville is nice,” says Allen. “Everywhere I go people ask me how I’m doing. Everybody is really helpful and supportive and you get a lot of nice comments, things said to you, encouraging things. It makes it that much more worthwhile.”
Allen will be looking to make his hometown proud with a big showing overseas when he competes on Monday, September 21. A live stream of the fights will be available on ippontv.com with the taped versions to air on TV at a later date.