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Three 100 Mile judoka competing in BC Winter Games

The B.C. Winter Games take place from Feb. 25 to 25

Melissa Hermiston

Special to the Free Press

A trio of young 100 Mile House athletes are working hard to prepare for competition in judo at the BC Winter Games later this month in Lhtako-Quesnel.

Kokoro Judo Club members Diana Kozakova, 12, Nabil Louraid, 13 and Myah Mason, 15, will be taking part in the games Feb. 23 to 25 and share one common feeling leading up to the competition – extreme nervousness.

“Terrified,” Mason replied when asked how she is feeling about the upcoming games, noting that having family and friends present will help her to overcome her worries.

It’s no surprise the athletes are a bit nervous about the experience – Kozakova has only been doing judo for a year and a half, and Louraid for just over one year. Mason competed as a youngster prior to COVID, and only just returned to the sport in September. But since qualifying for the games in December, the three have been putting in countless extra hours of training in preparation.

Louraid and Kozakova have been travelling to Prince George for regional practices almost every weekend throughout the winter and all three have been attending local practices at least three times a week.

Head Sensei Ian Briggs said the work they have put in and the improvements they’ve all made are huge accomplishments on their own.

“Nabil has been travelling around B.C. with the support of his parents and he has improved a tremendous amount,” Briggs said. “The games will be a great opportunity for him to get into the bigger judo community. Diana, in the last six weeks she has brought her judo to a whole new level. She is serious and she’s focused. She has already won as far as I’m concerned.”

Briggs said he expects all three competitors will do well at the games but that Mason could be the one to watch.

“She is such an athlete,” he said. “She is very skilled, she could do some real things in this tournament as an underdog because she is only an orange belt.”

While overcoming nerves on the mat is front of mind for the trio, they all said they’re excited to experience being part of such a big provincial event with so many other young athletes.

Representing the region is particularly special for Kozakova, who moved to the Cariboo in the summer of 2022 after her family fled the war in Ukraine.

“It makes me feel really special, like I’m needed,” she said of her involvement in the games.

Louraid said his preparation for the event has been a great learning experience so far.

“It’s shown me that if you put in enough effort you can not only climb the ranks, but you can also achieve almost anything,” he said.

It’s an exciting time for Kokoro, according to Briggs, who said the club is still playing catch-up from COVID shut downs when it comes to competing. Sending three athletes to the BC Winter Games is a great step in the right direction, he said.

“We’ve missed so much through the COVID years, everyone is playing catch up. But we’re sending three strong athletes to the games which is big.”