Handsworth Secondary Grade 10 student Emil Schenk casually lists off his injuries like he’s reciting a bit of memorization for social studies class.
“I broke my arm twice, separated my shoulders … tore ligaments in my ankle.”
He pauses a moment, knowing that he’s forgetting something.
“I’ve had quite a few injuries,” he says. “Everyone gets injured at some point. It’s really tough and rough.”
That’s the price you pay when you have a goal of going to the Olympics in judo. And Schenk, 15, seems like he’s well on his way. He’s Canada’s defending U16 champion, and next week he’ll be off to Europe for a series of events, hoping to score enough points to make the cadet World Championships scheduled for September in Kazakhstan.
Schenk became the national U16 60-kilogram champion last May in Calgary, fighting through pain to win a tough final.
“In the fight before it I got whacked a ton in my left quad, so it was super swollen and I could barely walk on it,” he says. “It was pretty tough to go and fight after that, but I still managed to somehow do that.”
Earning the national title was the biggest win of his career so far, he says.
“A lot of hard work went into that. It was pretty great. That was the first step, and now I’m looking forward to trying to qualify for the world championships.”
Earlier this month the 15-year-old took part in the U18 Elite 8 national championships in Montreal, an invitational tournament featuring the top eight fighters in Canada. Moving up to the 66 kg division, he finished second.
“I had two good fights but then got thrown in the last one,” he says. “I’ll get ’em next time.”
Schenk, who trains with the Burnaby Judo Club and is on the provincial team, has been practicing judo since he was seven years old, following along with a family tradition.
“My dad’s dad did it, and then my dad did it,” he says. His uncle almost went to the Olympics, he says, and his sister does judo too.
“It’s in the family,” says Schenk, adding that his father has helped him throughout his career. “He knows quite a bit, so he always shows me stuff. After practice we just stay for like half an hour and work on stuff. I train every day.”
The training takes up a lot of his time, and the physical punishment takes its toll, but it’s all worth it, says Schenk. Some of his recent wins have come by using a throwing technique that he spent countless hours perfecting.
“I like to do big uchi matas,” he says. “You step in and lift your leg – it’s a really nice throw. It’s pretty complex, but I’ve worked on it for quite a while. It’s just now started working for me. … When you get a nice big throw, it’s always super satisfying.”