Judoka Jack so glad he kicked off the ballet shoes!

Judoka Jack Hodgson in action during the 2016 GB Visually Impaired Grand Prix (PHOTO BY: Mike Varey, elitepix)
Judoka Jack Hodgson in action during the 2016 GB Visually Impaired Grand Prix (PHOTO BY: Mike Varey, elitepix)

Take one look at heavyweight judoka Jack Hodgson, of Gainsborough, and you’d never believe he was once a ballet dancer.

Well, that’s not strictly true. Jack grew up in a military camp in Northern Ireland, where the leisure activities were restricted to ballet or judo and, initially, as a six-year-old, he chose the former.

Not surprisingly, he wasn’t cut out for pirouettes or Adagio and wouldn’t have been a particularly fetching sight in a leotard either. So he rapidly switched to judo -- and with wonderful results.

The 20-year-old is now one of the leading Paralympian judo players in the country, and has just received the latest boost to his burgeoning career. For he has been selected in a seven-strong British team for the European Judo Championships, run by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), to be held at Walsall in early August.

As well as mainstream events, Jack competes in IBSA and visually impaired (VI) competitions because he suffers from the rare genetic condition, Usher Syndrome, which affects vision, hearing and balance.

His field of vision is just ten degrees and when he fights, he has to take out his hearing aid, which means he can get dizzy. Therefore, the success he has achieved, both in domestic competitions and international events, is admirable.

He started full-time training at the British Judo Centre of Excellence in 2015 and won a silver medal at the World Games in Korea that same year as well as a bronze in the European Championships

Possibly the highlight of his career so far, though, was representing his country at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last year. Sadly, before he left for the Games, he sustained an ankle injury that he aggravated while in Brazil. Yet he still narrowly missed out on a bronze medal.

“He did remarkably well,” said proud mum Nicky, who lives with husband Jon at Riverside Approach in Gainsborough. “He was quite badly injured. At the end of the Games, his ankle was literally hanging by a thread, and he had to have an operation, with six or seven months off to recover. He came back in the middle of May and is now fighting really well. He is confident and happy.”

A 1st dan, Jack is a member of Grimsby Judo Club, under coach Terry Alltoft. He is living in Birmingham at present while he studies sports coaching at Wolverhampton University. He wants to make coaching or teaching his career, but for now, his judo career, which is also being guided by British Paralympian coach Ian Johns, from Scunthorpe, is top priority.

“He trains all day, every day, and is always on the go to competitions or training camps,” said Nicky. “He was in Brazil again at the weekend and goes out to Germany this weekend. He’s progressing well, but he’s still only a baby in his heavyweight (plus-100kg) category by a long way, both in terms of age and weight.”

Nevertheless Team GB has such high hopes of Jack that Johns says he’ll be looking towards him to lead the team in Walsall when a good performance will push him up the world rankings and go some way towards booking a ticket to the next Paralympics.