Four members of the Creston Judo Club are Penticton bound to compete in the BC Winter Games, which run today through Sunday.
Brae Booth, Kyle Qualtieri, Kaeden Rendek and Joseph Albert will be part of an 11-member Kootenay judo team that includes athletes from Invermere and Fernie. Male and female Winter Games participants in judo must be 14-16 years of age.
Brae Booth, 14, will fight in the U-16 under 70-kilogram female class. Only three weeks ago she brought home a silver medal from the B.C. championships in Kamloops.
Booth has been a judo enthusiast for six years, starting out “because I needed a sport” in Prince George. She continued with the sport until her family moved to Creston and is at the Creston dojo three times a week, going to tournaments whenever she gets the chance.
Kyle Qualtieri, 14, said on Monday evening at the dojo that he developed a passion for the sport soon after he took it up eight years ago.
“And it’s something to do after school,” he smiled.
Qualtieri heads into the Winter Games as a B.C. champion, having won gold in his U-15 under 66-kilogram age and weight class in Kamloops. That victory followed up a silver medal in the Saskatchewan provincial championships earlier.
Kaeden Rendek, 15, is the only Creston judoka making a return to the Winter Games. In Mission two years ago, he won a gold medal in his U-16 under 46-kilogram class. Encouraged by his dad, Rendek took up the sport as a six-year-old and has had remarkable success as a member of the Creston Judo Club. Around his neck he wears gold medals from the recent B.C. and Saskatchewan championships where he competed in the U-18 55-kilogram class.
Joseph Albert, 14, has been a judo practitioner for 11 years, having been introduced to the dojo at an early age by his dad, who is an instructor, or sensei, with the club. Albert brought home a bronze medal from the B.C. championships.
The four athletes will be wearing the yellow sweaters of the Kootenays (Zone 1) when they march in the BC Winter Games opening ceremonies this week.
It takes a village to raise a child, and a support from volunteers and parents to keep a dojo in operation. Senior sensei Ben Reinhardt sets an example of dedication and enthusiasm for his students, driving up from Bonners Ferry three times a week to teach and coach.
Reinhardt, 53, who is head male coach for the Kootenay contingent in the Winter Games, got his start in judo in 1980 at the YMCA Judo Club in his hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas. His stepfather had been a judoka and “I wanted to do martial arts,” he said.
Only brief breaks for school and work duties, and the occasional injury, have interrupted his participation in judo since he first started. He fought in competitions until four years ago, when a shoulder injury ended that part of the sport for him.
Reinhardt learned about the Creston Judo Club when he moved to Bonners Ferry — where he works as a court bailiff — in 2004.
“I’ve been coming up to Creston pretty much since 2005, three times a week,” he said. “It took lots of volunteers to help me over my career and for me, it’s a pay it back, pay it forward thing.
“I’m really happy for these men and women to be part of the BC Winter Games. They put in time, money, blood, sweat and tears, and so do their parents. It’s a big commitment to get to training camps and tournaments around the country.”
Rendek’s father, Terry, says his son puts in 18-20 hours a week, including practice and weight and cardio training.
The Creston Judo Club has experienced success, and one of the female members is also making her mark. Shianne Gronen, 17, also won gold at the B.C. championships in the U-21 under 78-kilogram class. The Grade 12 Prince Charles Secondary School student is too old to participate in the Winter Games.
Surprisingly, Gronen only took up judo 14 months ago.
“I stopped playing volleyball and wanted to try another sport,” she said. “I knew Leelen (Samuelson, a longtime dojo member and now instructor) but didn’t know much about the sport.”
What does she like about judo?
She smiles as she talks about physical effort and competition, travel.
“But mostly it’s the connection with the people in the club — the senseis and coaches, everyone. And I love teaching the little guys!”
Gronen plans to include judo in her life after she graduates next year.
As club president, Terry Rendek credits the Creston Valley community for their continued support of youth activities. A gala dinner fundraiser two weeks ago drew 180 people.
“We had $10,000 worth of items donated by business for our silent auction,” he said. “This community is a fantastic example of why we choose to live in a small town.”
Readers can follow the Creston contingent’s success this week at www.bcgames.org.