This past weekend, after almost 10 months of planning, finally came to a culmination when the Chicago Judo Black Belt Association brought in Project 2024 to the Chicago area. I feel that this is a SUPER important program that supports (scouting, training, competing, etc) athletes for the 2024 (and 2028) Olympic games. Travis Stevens was the clinician and I've met him several times before, and he has been nothing but 100% professional. Albeit, he may not be the most talkative guy out there, in fact, he's down-right intimidating from the get go. Tall, muscular, quiet, scraggily face and cauliflowered ears resulted from 20+years on the tatami and he doesn't smile too much (or at least I thought). I've been to his clinics before and watched him give one word answers to the most friendliest people that I know.... I knew what to expect -- short answers, not talkative, BUT a world of knowledge, focus and attention to when he's teaching. This kind of quietness and discipline is what got him to podium at the Rio Olympics. "Less chat, more splat" is what one of the phrases on our judo Tshirts reads -- and he was the definition of that. When he arrived at the "dojo", he waited at the door for me to greet him and show him where to change. I asked him what if he wanted to go to lunch or have it brought in and he requested said that anything we decide is fine. As long as he has a candy bar and a diet coke, he's happy. Throughout the morning session, he led everyone through the very fundamentals of osotogari. Super basic. The adults and kids kind of groaned at something so basic, but as the morning wore on, he built on those basics -- and by the end, the kids' technique got a lot better and the adults saw a new way of breaking down methodology that's easy for everyone to understand. When we bowed out for lunch, Travis made sure that he was the last one off the mat. He took a few pictures and signed some belts until everyone was off the tatami, standing there, like a statue. He waited until he catered to everyone's photo request, autograph request, and question.
We had a platter of Jimmy John's waiting for him at the lunch break. He came into the lunch room where just 5 of us were sharing stories about the event the day before (I was the tournament director and we were recounting a few incidents). He listened quietly and then he interjected with his take on things, and that's when he spoke in the most polite manner, sharing his knowledge and insights from dojo ownership, to work ethic, to insurance to diet to perks at the Olympic games. It was amazing to get to know him on a bit of a personal level. Back on the tatami, he opened up a little bit more with the kids and even joked around with a few. The other coaches on the mat were asking what we fed him at lunch, and we just said, "sandwiches". Throughout the afternoon, we built upon the morning session. Nobody took a fall until 3pm in the afternoon. Travis was an absolute professional. He closed out the session with the importance of good technique, following instructions and working hard. Again, he took the time to take pictures, sign every autograph and talk to each each person who came up to him. I've hosted many clinics before, and the one thing that is common amongst Olympians, is that no matter how different their personalities are, they do wind up inspiring kids to be better and to strive for greatness.