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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – R.J. Hetherington is a quick study.
The 14-year-old Stratford native began judo fewer than three years ago. Based on his results at competitions this year, he earned an invitation to the Elite National Championship in Montreal during the weekend. He went 2-1 against the top eight under-18 boys in the country to finish second in the under 46-kilogram division.
“It was pretty fun. I never (thought) I would make it this far,” Hetherington said Wednesday during a practice session at Rikidokan Judo Club in Charlottetown.
“It felt amazing, especially winning in front of everyone,” he said. “I wasn't really that nervous, surprisingly. There was quite a lot of spectators.”
Hetherington and his older brother, Hugh, began judo together. They pushed each other to get better.
“I just wanted to basically start it out as a hobby, but then I started competing,” Hetherington said.
He went to nationals last year and won bronze. Now he has a silver to add to his collection. And he’s not done yet.
“I’m hoping for gold,” he smiled.
Hetherington, a Grade 9 student at Birchwood Intermediate School, said he’s been fortunate to work with great people who have helped him grow in the sport. It includes coach Kent Hardy, who Hetherington said is really supportive and doesn't put any undue expectations on him, which allows the youngster to perform well at competitions.
“So, there's not a lot of pressure on me,” he said.
Hardy has watched the agile youngster, who currently holds a blue belt, rapidly pick up the sport.
“He’s progressed so fast,” Hardy said. “He learns quick and he’s . . . clever when he fights. . . If he tries something and it doesn't work, he’s quick to adapt and trying something else.”
About 1 ½ months before the Montreal competition, Hardy put Hetherington on a high-intensity interval training program to get him set for the event.
“He followed it exactly to a T,” he said.
Hetherington is quiet young man who is focused and doesn't have big swings of emotions. It comes in handy in a sport where a win or loss can occur in the blink of an eye.
He’s also very dedicated.
“You never see him missing practice, ever, and you can thank his parents for that,” Hardy said. “They drive him to the club, they take him to training.”
Prince Edward Island sent three athletes to the Montreal competition, and they all came home with medals.
George Madumba of the Summerside Toshidokan Judo Club won silver for the second year in a row. Madumba posted a 3-1 record while competing in the under 90-kilogram class of the under-18 division.
Alicia Thomas of the Lennox Island Judo Club claimed a bronze medal in the under-18, 70-plus kilogram category after winning two of her three bouts.
Hetherington will be competing for Prince Edward Island at the Canada Games in Red Deer, Alta.
“It’s going to be pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s probably going to be more challenging, though.”
Hetherington will be moving up to the under 50-kilogram category of the under-18 division. They are the youngest and lightest age and weight classes at the Games.
Hardy said he won’t get rattled due to his experience at high-level tournaments and ability to block out the noise around him and listen to his coaches.
A look at R.J. Hetherington’s results at the Elite
Lasha Tsatsalashvili 10 R.J. Hetherington 0
R.J. Hetherington 10 Euan Litzenberger 0
R.J. Hetherington 5 Aidan Lazenby 0
1. Lasha Tsatsalashvili, Ontario.
2. R.J. Hetherington, P.E.I.
3. Elijah Hill, Alberta.
3. Caleb Demaere, Alberta.
5. Euan Litzenberger, Saskatchewan.
5. Aidan Lazenby, Alberta.
7. Victor Roy, Quebec.
7. Alexander Polyakov, Ontario.
Hetherington’s coach Kent Hardy: “The eight people that are in there are the best in the country. That's why it’s such a prestigious tournament.”