Local teen earns national judo title

Joey Payeur

Grace Petsnick travelled three provinces away to compete for all of 211 seconds.
But she made every one of them count.
The local Borderland Judo Club member and Team Ontario representative now has a national title from two different countries after winning all three of her bouts to claim the gold medal in the U16 female under 63-kg division at the Canadian Judo Championships on Saturday in Calgary.
Petsnick needed only a combined 3:31 to dispose of her three foes, and could not have been more pleased to add a Canadian crown to the one she got in winning her group at the U.S. nationals in Irvine, Calif. last year.
“Winning Canadian nationals compared to American nationals felt like it meant more because I am a Canadian,” Petsnick said Sunday from Calgary before attending the post-tournament awards banquet.
“It could be that I’m older now than I was when I competed in California and had a lot of bigger competitions leading up to it,” she reasoned.
“But in a way, I’m just a lot prouder of these fights and this title.”
Local sensei Chuck MacDonald, who accompanied Petsnick and fellow club member Jaden Woolsey to the nationals as a Team Ontario coach, was thrilled to watch Petsnick join the elite category of junior-aged judokas in the country.
“Grace has made great strides in judo this year and it was her last year in her current U16 division,” he noted.
“I am very proud of her accomplishments and her sacrifices she has made to attain this level of competition.
“I think the biggest difference for her overall on her way to the gold medal is that Grace learned from her mistakes in past competitions and takes constructive criticism well,” MacDonald added.
“I pick apart her competitions and make minor adjustments to her techniques, and she can adjust her fighting style.
“She is an aggressive fighter who isn’t afraid to go all out,” he noted.
“She is comfortable with stand-up fighting and she is very proficient grappling on the ground.”
Petsnick, fresh off winning the gold medal in the Midget girls’ high jump at the NWOSSAA track-and-field championships earlier in the week in Thunder Bay to qualify for OFSAA starting tomorrow in Belleville, had to battle serious emotional angst before she even stepped on the mat after watching Woolsey get eliminated in agonizing fashion in his first bout.
Competing in the U16 male under 55-kg class, Woolsey took on Saskatchewan’s Jessen Brust.
Brust came out like he was shot out of a cannon–executing a lightning-fast takedown of Woolsey just five seconds in.
Woolsey severely bruised his left hip and suffered some muscle damage that left him unable to fend off Brust’s ground assault.
The referee stopped the match at the 16-second mark and summoned for medical help, which eventually led to Woolsey being taken to hospital for X-rays.
“I think I was the first one to know that Jaden was injured,” said MacDonald.
“The fight went to the ground and I noticed he wasn’t reacting to the ground game like he is trained to do,” he remarked.
“My initial reaction was that he was hurt and couldn’t continue.
“We got him off the mat and the sports doctor on-site was concerned about a broken bone,” MacDonald added.
“At that point, I knew his day was done.
“I was disappointed for Jaden because I know how hard he has trained this year to prepare for this competition,” he continued.
“He never really got a chance to prove himself.”
“It was really tough to watch Jaden’s fight,” admitted Petsnick. “I was a little scared at how easily I could get hurt like that.
“It’s all unpredictable and you never think about the risk when you’re going out to fight,” she noted.
“I just tried to think I’ll go out and fight and what happens, happens.”
Whatever Petsnick did to refocus worked like magic as she beat Quebec’s Somaya Sallami with an ippon takedown just nine seconds into her first contest that automatically ended it.
“Honestly, with so much going on before the fight and all my internal prep to go out on the mat, I was kind of stunned,” Petsnick conceded.
“All of the anxiousness I felt walking out of the mat just disappeared and I didn’t really grasp it until I was walking off of the mat 30 seconds later.”
Next up was Jordann Warner from B.C., who had Petsnick on her back early in the match.
But after the fighters reset after the referee called for a break, Petsnick tied up Warner inside and then pulled her down to her knees.
With Warner vulnerable, Petsnick then bowled over Warner and put her in an airtight hold that she kept on for the required 20 seconds to win the match at the 1:32 mark.
“[Warner] was shorter than me and I had fought her before in Edmonton, but I couldn’t remember how I beat her,” Petsnick recalled.
“I don’t come out strong and aggressive starting fights, just because I need to see who I’m dealing with before trying anything,” she explained.
“I had to learn that the hard way, getting caught trying moves that don’t work on certain people, and Sensei reminding me to use my head, not strength.”
Standing between Petsnick and the gold medal was another B.C. opponent, Jamiliya Wellard, the rare foe who physically resembles Petsnick.
“I fight shorter and heavier girls nine times out of 10, but this girl was [my] same height, same build, totally different from who I usually am fighting against,” she noted.
Wellard scored the opening point of the match with a hold that took Petsnick several seconds to escape from.
“I didn’t really acknowledge that she had a point against me,” Petsnick chuckled.
“As long as she didn’t win, then it’s all good.”
The second lockup between the two ended with Petsnick strong-arming Wellard down to her knees, then speedily getting in behind her to apply a choke hold that didn’t score points but had a much more meaningful effect.
“After my attempted choke, she seemed noticeably drained and slower, which worked to my advantage as her attacks had little drive,” Petsnick said.
With Wellard reeling, Petsnick moved in for the kill–first fending off a feeble takedown attempt before getting perfect inside position to deliver the decisive ippon at the 1:50 mark.
“I countered one of her throws and I felt all of her weight come up when I drove into her,” noted Petsnick.
“It felt like slow motion and I was just thinking, ‘Yes! Yes!’
“When she came down, all her air came out and mine did, too, and I cheered a little bit for myself to be honest,” Petsnick added.
“When we stood up, I was just giddy, like ‘I did it!’
“It was pretty emotional for me that I could make my family and coaches watching proud.”
And speaking of one particular coach.
“I couldn’t have been in Calgary if it wasn’t for Chuck,” Petsnick said of MacDonald.
“Giving up free time to teach and giving up more time to bring me everywhere to compete, all the support, how kind he is to me, I couldn’t imagine any other person bringing me to a national level like Sensei has,” she lauded.
“Everything I’ve accomplished has been at the hands of Sensei, my parents, and all the support from other instructors and training partners at home.”
As for Woolsey, MacDonald had full confidence his judoka will recover.
“Jaden is a staple in our judo club and he works very hard every class,” he noted.
“All of the training he has put in will make him stronger next year when we work toward the same goal.
“I have full confidence that Jaden will return to this high level of competition and next year will be his year to shine,” MacDonald added.
“I’m sad for Jaden because of all the hours of training he did, but his time will come,” echoed Petsnick.