A judo odyssey that spans from Whidbey to San Jose to London
Marti Malloy was in her first years of judo when she met U.S. Olympian Mike Swain.
She got his autograph and caught a glimpse of the higher levels of the sport.
“I remember going, ‘Wow, it’s not just about local tournaments,’ ” recalls Malloy. “You can go to bigger tournaments and be the best on the planet.”
Malloy, who started judo as a 6-year old at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, has reached those bigger tournaments.
She placed fifth in her division at the World Judo Championships in August, and she leaves Tuesday for London to compete in the Olympics.
The 26-year-old Oak Harbor native has been working toward this moment since she first stepped onto a judo mat.
She barely missed making the 2008 Olympics, which spurred her on this time around.
“For me, more than anything it made me a lot more focused,” she said.
With the top 14 women in the world in the 57-kilogram division guaranteed Olympic spots, Malloy all but locked up a trip to London with her world championships performance last year.
Despite suffering an injury in February, Malloy ended April ranked No. 10 in the world, putting her in the Olympics.
“It wasn’t a matter of whether or not I was going to make it,” Malloy said. “I knew I could make it. It was, ‘What are you going to do when you make it?’ ”
Malloy expects to contend for a medal, and recent performances back up her expectations.
She took a bronze medal at the Paris Grand Slam in February, then, after missing time because of a shoulder injury, placed second in the European Cup in June.
The time away from judo was difficult for Malloy.
“I love judo,” she said. “Forget about the Olympics, just not being able to compete in judo was depressing.
“I was really unhappy. This was a time I should be feeling 110 percent and getting ready for the biggest tournament of my life, and I just felt like I was stalled.”
Malloy, who sprained her right shoulder while competing in Hungary, was at first unable to lift her arm above shoulder level.
But she focused on her physical therapy and said she is healthy going into the Olympics.
And to think it all started in a judo program at NAS Whidbey Island.
Malloy’s father, Marty – a Navy man who was once a judo competitor himself – took his two oldest sons to the base to try out the sport. Young Marti tagged along to watch.
“It just looked like the funnest thing in the world,” she said.
When she reached 6 – the minimum age to compete – Malloy took to the mat. She was unbeatable from the start, winning her first tournament. At her first junior nationals, Malloy won a gold medal. At her second, she took silver and “cried her eyes out.” Judo had her in its grip.
“I loved it,” she said. “I loved the winning.”
The experience with the NAS Whidbey Island program was good, too. Malloy had friends in the program, as well as her three brothers.
“I think I would have done judo no matter what, but it (the Navy program) just made my childhood experience doing judo that much better,” Malloy said.
Younger brother Zane now runs the Whidbey program, while older brother Reuben competes in Lynnwood. Older brother Francis competed in judo until his death in a car accident in 2010.
After high school, Malloy went on to compete at San Jose State in California. She still lives and trains in San Jose, which is home to a USA Judo national training site.
Malloy will have her family –father, mother Merry, and brothers Zane and Reuben – and her boyfriend with her in London for the start of the Olympic tournament July 30.
What started as a fascination for a 6-year-old shows no signs of ending.
“I think I’ve always known judo was something I would do my whole life,” Malloy said. “People don’t realize that to truly be good, to master judo, takes a lifetime.”