Two years ago, Elysia Cornish was a mother of three whose self-esteem was extremely low after leaving an abusive relationship.
Today the 31-year-old Sarnia woman is a provincial champion in judo.
“I’d never even thought of doing martial arts but I knew I needed something to empower myself,” said Cornish, who trains at Bushido Sing dojo in Sarnia.
“I tried it and I fell in love with it.”
Cornish won a gold medal at the Ontario Open Championships last week in the U70 lightweight women’s category. It was the first time in 45 years a judo athlete from Sarnia has won provincial gold.
Cornish was also the co-winner of a bronze medal with Sarnia judo pioneer Bob Sing in Ju-no-Kata, a two-person performance routine.
“What she has accomplished in less than 18 months took me 10 years,” said sensei Keven Walsh, the owner of Bushido Sing dojo.
Cornish has competed seven times, embraced an active teaching role and earned her referee certification.
She plans to test for a black belt next June, a feat Walsh said is “unheard of” for an athlete so new to the sport.
“She’s got leadership qualities that are extreme,” he said.
Cornish is part of a new wave of women entering the once male-dominated sport. In fact, Walsh said, many scholarships available to young women in judo go unclaimed.
There’s also a push on internationally to see more women referees at the 2020 Summer Olympics, he said.
Judo teaches women how to even the odds against a man in a physical confrontation. Just as importantly, it helps develop a strong mind, Walsh said.
“I’m a third degree (black belt) in taekwondo, a second degree (black belt) in Brazilian jiu jitsu (and) a former MMA fighter,” he said.
“All those arts did not teach me what judo has taught me.”
Cornish said the sport has become a metaphor for her life and gave her the courage needed not to return to the abusive relationship.
“How you are on the mat is … a display of how you are in everyday life,” she said.
“If it wasn’t for judo I don’t think I would have been able to grow and move forward. It teaches you how to fall down and get back up and keep going.”