At Achieve, inner-city youth find a way to succeed in academics through boxing and judo. Dana Lee/IndyStar
(Dana Lee for Indy Star)
APIA, Samoa – Joshter Andrew received one of the highest pre-tournament honors in judo at the Pacific Games here in Samoa, gaining the No. 1 seed in the -81 kg class, one of the most popular weight divisions in the tournament. He and Amy Cho are representing Guam.
Andrew, a freshman at Ryutsukeizai University, Ibariki-Ryugasaki on full judo scholarship, is already a seasoned competitor at age 21, having represented Guam all around the world since his career began more than a decade ago.
With time and experience has come progress and humility for the 5-foot-11 judoka, who has carried about 10 percent body fat for the last five years.
“Every day is like a fight for me. Waking up early morning to train, going to classes, and training again at night,” said Andrew, who has lived in Japan the last two years. He received his black belt in judo three years ago in Guam.
Andrew says he’s come a long way from the Guam kohai (beginner) he once was, taking his licks and getting thrown all over the mat.
“I’ve learned that even the smallest things really count. I’ve learned how hard work makes a difference, and how important it is to be disciplined. If I miss breakfast, I will feel it,” he said. “It’s made me a better person. I keep my goals close, and I carry with me the pressure of how I represent my senseis, my school, my family and my country.”
There are at least 10 fighters in the tournament at Andrew’s weight class.
His teammate Amy Cho is the opposite when it comes to experience, with a hefty 13 months under her best. An auditor by trade, Cho went to a judo dojo on recommendation by her boss James Whitt. The Pacific Games isn’t just her first international competition – it’s her first competition.
“I don’t really know what to expect. I’m nervous, but more excited than anything, said the 32-year-old. “I’m just very honored that the GNOC and Guam Judo have allowed me to compete, and that they have that much faith in me. I figure they wouldn’t have done this lightly, so I’m going to just take it one step at a time.”
Although admittedly not that type of person in life, Cho plans to be the aggressor on the mate. Her coaches say she’s got a strong grip – the most essential skill in judo – but she knows it needs work.
“Maybe it’s just me being hard on myself but there’s always room for improvement. With training on Guam, I don’t get a lot of female partners to work out with,” she said.
Arriola said she opens her match against the tournament’s No. 2 seed.
“The one thing that I’ve learned in judo; it’s like the ultimate level playing field. Basically, only my weight matters. I’m a white belt going against browns and blacks, but there’s no other stats. One of you could be having a better day,” she said. “What matters is who has the better technique and that moment, otherwise it’s completely level.”