Martin Russo (right) celebrates his national third place finish. (RAFAL BURZA)
Martin Russo has won third place at the 2018 Canadian Nationals in Judo.
The Winkler native, who now lives in Winnipeg while attending the University of Manitoba, took the bronze in the U21 - 90kg class.
It’s not his first time on the national stage. In Grade 11 he placed third in the U18 category, and finished first in Grade 10 in the Elite Eight National Championships.
The older event is competitive.
“This the U21 category, it’s older people and everyone wants to win,” he said. “If you win nationals you get selected by Canada to compete internationally so there’s huge pressure to bring results.”
After a few years of not quite making it to a medal, Russo said winning third was a great experience.
“In Grade 12 I ended up taking seventh and in my first year of university I took fifth,” he said.
Not coming back with a medal can be tough.
“These losses, they have a mental toll on you... you can get discouraged,” he said. “But I knew if I stuck to it, if I was disciplined enough I would eventually get a result.”
Being disciplined was key for Russo who was taking a full university course load while training and competing.
“I was training twice a day, once in the morning before classes, then I would attend university classes, study and do all my homework and then go to practice,” he said.
Russo said he focusses on cardio, strength and technique and admits he likes training old school.
“I’m a big believer in the old Rocky Balboa style of training,” he said.
Russo said the skills he needs to make such a life work are taught to him by the sport of Judo.
“This sport is all about discipline and respect,” he said. “It’s not the MMA where you just beat each other up. After, you’re friends with your opponent. It teaches you stuff you can use in real life... respect, discipline, hard work.”
As part of the Manitoba provincial team, Russo has the opportunity to play tournaments throughout the year such as the Quebec Open and Pacific Open in Vancouver. “Our team goes to four or five of these Opens all throughout Canada,” he said.
Some of the competitions acquire an international flavour, and Russo said the Pacific Open included people from Japan and other countries.
“The judo program in Canada is actually very well developed,” he said. “We have a lot of challenges here, with very good opportunities to improve your judo.”
Russo will be competing in the Canada Cup, an international tournament in Montreal in July.
He said he owes a lot to those who supported him along the way.
“I’d like to thank my parents,” he said. “I’m fighting for my family, I’m fighting for my friends, for the people that helped me train and helped me to get to where I am.”