Teen judo standout following a family tradition

Kaleigh Kuramoto headed to the Canada Winter Games in February where her dad won silver 31 years ago

Kaleigh Kuramoto doesn’t have to look far for advice on her promising judo career. The family dinner table offers vast knowledge and experience.

The 15-year-old Steveston Judo Club member is coming off a superb season competing at the U18 level for the first time — earning a surprising silver at the national championships then capturing bronze in her international debut at the Canada Cup in Montreal. It sets the stage for what should be an exciting and productive second year competing in this age group, including representing B.C. at the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer come February.

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It’s the very same multi-sport competition her father Craig Kuramoto won silver 31 years ago when the Games were held in Cape Breton. Four years earlier her uncle won gold in Lethbridge.

It all has to do with her family’s rich and productive history in the sport and with the Steveston Judo Club. 

It began early 1950s when her grandfather was involved in the infant years. Today, 80-year-old Martin Kuramoto is one of five original members still active with the club and, remarkably, leads weekly classes.

“We started off in a hall right beside the Steveston Hotel. The instructors were all fishermen so we had them about three months of the year during the winter time,” recalled Martin who went on to become a sixth degree black belt and an international referee for over five decades.

He was also a instructor and that paved the way for his three children to join the club. Each of them would eventually earn black belts.

“It was a family sport. My brother and sister are older than me and I just followed,” said Craig. “We were lucky that the timing worked out that my brother and I were both able to compete in the Winter Games since they are only held every four years.

“My dad is very proud to see that tradition continue.”

Kaleigh has spent the past two years with Judo B.C.’s provincial team. That typically means six days a week of activities including training in Burnaby and Abbotsford, on top of  strength and conditioning sessions at such venues as the Olympic Oval. Craig was also a provincial team member but it wasn’t a detailed program as it is today.

“She has a much harder work ethic than I ever had and she probably has trained more in the last two years than I did my whole career. I did other sports at the same time and she is completely dedicated to this,” said Craig who today is only a full-time ‘judo dad’ supporting his daughter’s career.

“It is really cool to see her sort of take on the same throws we did. 

“Things have really taken off for her since she got silver for nationals. We didn’t expect her to medal being it was considered a development year. The family goal was actually fifth place. But she took out one of the top contenders in the second round and the silver got her into Canada Cup where she beat an internationally ranked opponent from Hong Kong to get bronze.”

Kaleigh also played other sports when she was younger but quickly discovered judo was her passion. Now it’s about juggling her provincial team commitments with Grade 10 studies at McMath.

A very good competitive season ahead could pave the way for representing Canada at more international tournaments.

“Right now I’m still thinking about my future and we will see how my second year in U18 ends,” she said. “I tried other sports but this is my favourite. I just couldn’t wait to practice and wanted to do it everyday.”

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