It has been a long series of ups and downs for judo player Sarah Clark, in a career that has spanned nearly thirty years. She has competed at the highest level of her sport, including three Olympic Games and has achieved several top-three World and European Championship finishes. Now at the age of 35, Clark is still enjoying being in the training regime and aiming for gold at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The last time judo was included on the Commonwealth Games programme was in Manchester in 2002. At those Games, Clark took silver in the women's under 63kg category, only succumbing in the final to Karen Roberts of England. Furthermore she was one of ten Scottish judo medallists, so it is no surprise that Scotland chose to include it as one of seven optional sports for Glasgow 2014.
Since then, Clark has continued her judo journey, competing at no less than three Olympic Games. Most recently at London 2012, Clark was defeated in the first round in the under 57kg category. She then took some time out to reflect, assess where she was and what she needed to do if she was to come back stronger than ever and go for gold in Glasgow.
"I never thought of retiring", the native of South Shields said. "I sat down and assessed where I was and what I needed to do, and thought to myself that finishing on a high note and getting a gold medal (in Glasgow) would be a good way to end my career. I am physically and mentally in a good place."
With renewed focus, Clark is beginning to get back into serious training. However she is taking a slightly different approach and cutting down her training compared to previous years, to allow time to get more involved with the Winning Scotland Foundation's project "Champions in Schools".
"My training needs to be smart and hard, focusing on making every session count", Clark said. "I need to have a good plan in place every day, stay confident in my judo ability and stay injury free and healthy."
"I am not in 100% full time training, as I am involved with schools and very keen on promoting sport and healthy lifestyles. With the Champions in Schools programme, I work with selected schools over three different sessions, six weeks apart, to promote winning attitudes and setting goals. I use my position and experience as an athlete to teach students how to set healthy goals and encourage kids that no matter what they want to do, they can do it."
Through this programme, Clark has developed a strong affinity to girls in sport; having been a successful female athlete in a sport many perceive to be masculine and aggressive. She is hoping that she can be a role model for other girls.
"Being a woman in sport, I want to influence girls about sport and healthy lifestyles, as well as teach them that it is cool to be fit and healthy. I want to get them to understand that you can still look nice and not be all muscly."
"I picked judo when I was nine years of age, the boys at my school did judo and I wanted to try it", Clark said. "It turned out judo picked me, and I happened to be quite good at it. I wish I knew the key to success, but the most important thing is to be dedicated."
"Over the years you see the players who haven't given up trying to make it to the top level, even though they may not be the strongest or most technical. The key is to push through when you are winning, and keep turning up."
With just one year to go to the Games, Clark is hoping to be one of up to seven women judoka selected to represent Team Scotland and with her dedication and successful track record, it must surely only be a matter of time before she "turns up" in Glasgow next summer.
You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahclark_judo
Photo Credit: Getty Images