This week to help celebrate World Judo Day and this year’s theme of being ‘Stronger Together’ we are sharing stories from members demonstrating how they have become ‘Stronger Together’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our second story this week comes from Ealing Judo Club’s Jo Crowley. Jo has been a coach since 2000 and Head Coach at Ealing Judo Club since she founded it in 2003. Her members have competed all over the world, from local beginner events to the Olympic Games. With members living all over, travelling and committing to training, it was a real shock when the sport ‘just stopped’ overnight.

I went from coaching 14 sessions a week to nothing. Overnight it just stopped. I initially found that I missed the families and the immediate lack of variety was noticeable. I was still able to get my judo fix coaching my children in our back garden, although I am not sure if they would count themselves lucky or godforsaken to be living with their judo coach; the jigsaw mats certainly took quite a pounding!

Not for a second did I think we would catch it; after all we were being careful. Washing our hands so much that my skin was going dry. We washed our clothes after being out food shopping. We didn’t visit friends or see grandparents. We did what we were told to do and stayed at home. Walking outside for a couple of hours most days, away from anyone else – with some added hill sprints for the mini judoka! I paid by contactless, not touching pedestrian crossing buttons and not allowing delivery personnel into the house.

Pressure on my chest, a loss of appetite, no taste or sense of smell. Not much of a temperature and only a mild, dry cough for a couple of days. A sore throat unlike any I have experienced before, so dry and kind of not sore, but really present. The worst? Anxiety! Huge. Unexpected. Dark. Constant. I hadn’t heard anyone say that anxiety was a symptom, only really hearing about the dry cough and high temperature. During online conversation with a few colleagues and friends I gradually built a picture in my mind of the real list of symptoms and yes, anxiety was quite possibly one of them.

I’m usually a practical, solution-led person, but this really chipped away at me, left feeling lazy and guilty and wondering why making breakfast was so hard. Two weeks of that, with a lot of hugs from the children. At least two of them had it too, but thankfully pretty mildly. We managed some schoolwork and kept in touch with club members via our closed social media group. I posted plenty of content and even held theory tests via FaceTime and gradually the panic lifted, and my taste buds sprang back to life. Now, as a foodie of monstrous proportions, I’m back to enjoying my kitchen, baking and cooking a lot as a family.

Away from the anxiety, I now feel my usual positivity and am totally confident in a clearing of the cloud of Covid-19. I have been so motivated by the athletes I have seen working their socks off in their homes, some living alone but clearly training just as hard as ever. That takes mental power in the extreme and has to be admired.

This led to me want to improve myself. I started recording my training stats, along with writing and photographing the stages of our lockdown. I found this gave me some goals and a focus in an otherwise blurry, uncertain period.

It all started when Nekoda nominated my oldest son to complete the 5-5-5 challenge: 5km each day for 5 days and then nominate 5 other people. This came at just the right time as my sense of purpose had well and truly left the party. I asked my son, Luke, to nominate me for the challenge as no-one would dare nominate their Sensi and risk the extra burpees in their next online session!

I’ll admit, the first day was pretty hard; with juggling parenthood, running a successful judo club and generally putting everyone ahead of myself, my fitness had all but left. I cycled it and was glad when it was over, especially as I had to borrow one of my children’s bikes.

14th April was day one. I completed the 5-day challenge. By the end of the week I found it did get easier, so I set myself the next logical challenge of reaching 100 days of 5km a day! Whether it be run, walk or cycle I reached 100 days on 22nd July. It was hard, I’m not going to lie. Personal life changes made it quite solitary, but I had set myself a goal and I was not about to fail.

Aptly, today is day 200. No days missed. Two hundred days of training through the pandemic. I hadn’t realised that this milestone would fall on World Judo Day but it seems fitting. The initial 5-5-5 challenge was just a steppingstone. Now I am training 2-3 times per day, with a mix of cycling, running, kettle bell training and BJJ.

I have gradually increased my cycling to 80km, but as a person who enjoys efficiency and giving every journey a function, I decided to combine my daily exercise with some much-needed contact with my judo club members. I visited their homes to wave and catch-up from a safe distance. I called it the ‘cycle-by series’.

The cycle-by series has been so much fun and has created a different kind of unity and appreciation. Seeing the real life faces of people I had been separated from, having been so used to seeing them almost daily and then not for weeks. I found that not only did it motivate me, but it also motivated them to keep healthy too. Many have since begun cycling for their own fitness, with some even reciprocating the visit.

I honestly believe that everything we have been through, how we have taken the little things for granted, will ultimately bring us closer together. We have found new ways in which we communicate and how we co-ordinate our communities. Finding new ways to share memories and to create ties that don’t just revolve around the tatami. Whether we are going to be back together again soon or not, we have found opportunities within the upheaval to connect and value each other. I am sure that once we are back together, these actions will strengthen our club and bring us together maybe even more than we were before.

We are calling for all judoka, clubs and judo fans to share how you are #StrongerTogether.

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