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Melissa Myers- USA Judo Olympic Hopeful









Melissa Myers has been training to go to the Olympics for Judo since she was four years old. Melissa got into Judo because her mom, who was a single mom, put her and her siblings into Judo along with their older cousin so they would all be in the same activity. Melissa, however, was the only one who stuck with it, and cannot remember a time when she was not on the mat.

She remembers in fourth grade for a project on what she wanted to be when she grew up, Melissa said she wanted to be an Olympian. Melissa is aiming for the 2024 Olympics in Paris and hopefully also the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. She noted it takes a lot of hard work to get to the Olympics, more than other sports as Judo is popular around the world, not just in select countries, and thus she is competing with people from around the world. As an example, Melissa shared that there might be 5-6 other girls in her division in a tournament in the US, but when she went to Paris for a tournament she had 43 other girls to compete against. Melissa is grateful for the women she does get to train with, because they are awesome, but she does end up training with a lot of men, and "fun fact, men and women are different and they fight differently, so a guy who is my same size same weight is not going to be the same as fighting a woman my weight. I learn something every day ... I am still climbing up every time, that's the biggest thing that gets me through practice. Even on hard days I know I've gained something." Melissa shared that, despite being a female in a male-dominated sport, she has not felt singled out too much, but mainly because she's been doing it since she was so little. She acknowledged that other women have struggled, noting for example that getting women in the door is very difficult because they see it as a masculine sport. Melissa does not know if it's society or something that says women can't be fireballs and beating the crap out of each other, and she wishes she had a good answer for women get in the door of Judo as it's hard. Melissa is aggressive at practice, but has never really fought in anger - she fights with a purpose of, "I I want to do the technique, I want to pay tribute to the sport, to what I've been learning, I never want to go out there and just hurt someone." She thinks a lot of women see MMA and assume that's all what "this" is - just be brutal - but at least where she trains, "we teach you how to fall first, we teach you the basics and then you just build from there. I think people get intimidated that they'll be thrown to the wolves to fend for themselves, but no, we start you off small and you work your way on up."


A typical day for Melissa starts with going to the gym at 5am, then attending classes at Mildred Elly for massage therapy or going to work at either Saratoga Coffee Traders or more recently at her second job performing administrative work at a massage therapy clinic, followed by 2 hours of Judo practice every evening. Melissa graduated from the University of Iowa in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in human physiology and then moved to New York specifically to train with {lost name}, an Olympic coach in 2019, away from her family, living basically by herself - right at the start of the pandemic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Melissa trained with the same group everyday, in their own bubble, and this practice led her technique through the roof - she was very grateful to have this space to keep practicing, as she would have gone crazy if she couldn't practice or do something.


Melissa has been to 14 different countries to compete in tournaments, and some she was only able to see from the hotel windows because of COVID restrictions, but she was still grateful for the experiences and looks forward to revisiting the places so she can see them from outside.

Melissa sees her career of being a massage therapist merging well with her Judo as awesome, that they are "A beautiful marriage between a really aggressive hard on your body sport and massage which is really good for your body and overall wellness without having to take ibuprofen everyday" and feels that she will be very marketable to other athletes. She will not be quitting Judo cold turkey after she competes in the Olympics. Melissa does not see herself trying. togo for the 2032 Olympics, but she loves competing and putting her hands on new people. Melissa noted they have divisions for people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s; when she says Judo is a lifelong sport, she means it is a lifelong sport. She has seen people do it until they cannot do it anymore, and that is who Melissa is - Judo will always be a part of her life, she will definitely continue to train no matter what. Melissa is grateful for her job at the massage therapy clinic, so that once she completes her studies, "I can start attracting the clients I want to work with - I really enjoy working with athletes and also people who are a bit older who want to stay fit but feel like they don't deserve a good massage, I'm like no, it's so important for you, it's not just going to be like a spa day where I just touch you, I'm going to get into the nitty gritty to make sure you can keep competing. That's what I want, I want to keep doing stuff until my body says no."


There is stuff Melissa has learned from Judo that she can take into her own personal life, the discipline for example. Melissa shared "I have to be very disciplined on myself, I have to do the work most people don't want to do. If there's a throw I'm struggling with, I have to do it until I figure this part out, I can't just move on." Melissa shared that because she wasn't always training with an Olympic coach, that she was training for many years at a recreational level in Iowa and other places before New York, that she'd picked up a lot of bad habits along the way. Now she has to relearn everything, and likens it to relearning how to walk, which has been a point of frustration for her.

Melissa shared that the last tournament she competed in, in Ecuador, was not a good tournament for her personally. But she showed up to practice as soon as she got back in the US, "I was like I have things to work on until the next one. I think that's what separates a lot of people who want to be champions from the ones that want to be winners. You are going to lose a lot, I have lost many many times, I have cried in the bathroom many times over my performance because I know I'm better than that. That's what keeps me going back, I know I can improve on this I just have to grind it out. But I've also had amazing tournaments, like getting the gold medal the results should be the end all be all but .... So usually I have to take the losses and learn from them."


When asked her ranking, Melissa shared "I think I'm ranked #5 in the US, and it changes after each tournament, in the world I was 104 and I need to be the top 20. It's a ladder, you have to go to each rung, you can't just jump up for the highest rung."

"Especially now that I'm on this training regiment, and I'm kind of an adult, I've been attracted to people who are as equally ambitious, such as Leslie Swedish, owner of Moxxi, who has been working to build the Moxxi company and keep expanding it, and notes that Leslie is competitive in that sense."

"You're never going to have a perfect workday, you're never going to have a perfect practice, you just have to, those are just the days you have to get through, find positives in other aspects. That's half the battle with everything, the mental part of it. Sometimes that barrier comes up and just hits you."


When asked about sponsorships for female Judo athletes in particular, Melissa noted there are companies that do sponsor, mostly in other countries it's more popular to sponsor a judo athlete than in the US. "But every little bit helps for us athletes that are self funded. I pay the hotel fees, tournament fees, air fare; my family members have saved up miles to gift me to pay for the round trip flights." Melissa is grateful for receiving a Moxxi Women's Foundation Quarter 4 grant that paid for a full tournament.

When asked about her diet, she noted "I've actually been doing a vegan diet for the last 9 months and I have felt awesome. But I think it kind of evens out, meat is more expensive now. But I have to go to the store more often to get more fruits and vegetables. I'm not perfect, I'll still buy the processed vegan stuff. Sometimes I find time to meal prep and stuff, sometimes I eat at work, a lot of caffeine. Even though my schedule is hectic and crazy and I have to be super disciplined it's what I want to do. So I'm enjoying it. When people say I don't have time for this and that, if you really want it you will make time and effort for it. That's what people have to remember, it's not going to just fall into your lap, you have to put in the work. You just have to remember why you're doing it, because you want to feel good."


Advise Melissa shares for others is "I would say remember your why, why do you want to do it, and also create the short term goals. Yeah there's the big picture, I want to go to the Olympics that's my big one but how am I going to get there and I have to remember the steps - I have to practice these throws and I have to go to these tournaments and feel comfortable there before I can move on to the next thing. And that little progression is so huge, because if you go from 0 to 100 you are probably going to fall down, that happened to me a while ago, I was training so hard I went to this really big tournament in Paris that maybe I wasn't really ready for and I lost in the first round and it hurt. But I was like take a step back, and there's nothing wrong with taking a step back to make sure you have a good foundation. If I was to tell people who wanted to progress, follow the progression as it should be."

Melissa feels everything can be a learning experience. "We go to these smaller tournaments in CT and Boston and New Jersey, and I try to go to each one treating it like the grand championships, this will be super important to my training process and my learning, because I'll probably fight someone I haven't fought before and I'll learning something. I'm constantly in communication with my coach, here's my game plan for this particular person, here's my performance review for how I think I did, just try to be active in all aspects of the competition experience. As soon as you start treating something small as insignificant that will set you back. Just because it's a smaller tournament and it won't be as big doesn't mean it won't be as important."

Melissa was glad to do this interview, and ended by saying "Hopefully it inspires at least one person to say this is a big goal of mine and I hope to get it."


WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW BELOW




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