WHEN Glynn Fidgeon gave up his job as a chef to become a full-time judo coach in 2012, he dreamed of helping a generation of young North Yorkshire-based judokas to fulfil their potential.

Seven years on, and at the recent British Championships in Kettering, his FIJ Sportif club came away with six national titles and a further eight national medallists. It is safe to say his decision to turn his back on the kitchen has proved an inspired move.

Based in Richmond, Catterick and Northallerton, FIJ Sportif has made great strides in the last few years, and as a result, some of the club’s junior members stand on the brink of national and international recognition.

Sisters Lucy and Georgia Robinson, who are finalists at this evening’s Northern Echo Local Heroes Awards, both claimed national titles in their respective age categories in Kettering.

Lucy, who is 12, is part of a GB group that have specially-tailored coaching sessions in Edinburgh, and has been selected to compete in Japan next year as part of a programme built around the Olympic judo tournament in Tokyo.

Her younger sister, Georgia, who is ten, is also claiming national honours, and the pair were inspired to take up judo when Glynn visited their village school in Appleton Wiske.

Joanna Witowski (12), Jessica Mepham (12), Katie Carruthers (12) and Sarah Davison (nine) also claimed national titles at the British Championships, with Scarlet Curtis, Harry Oldfield, Sadie Robinson and Daniel Townsend winning silver and Joshua Hutchinson, Will James, Lewis Clark and Joslyn Wilson winning bronze.

Thanks to the collective success, FIJ Sportif topped the overall medal table at the tournament, having already claimed the North-East Grand Prix League title earlier in the year. Not bad for an elite squad that has only been training together since 2017.

“It was absolutely fantastic,” said Glynn, who first took up judo as a child in the mid-1970s, winning his first national final at the age of 11 and going on to claim a British title and a Commonwealth medal. “The squad has come on so much in the last couple of years.

“It’s great to see the effort that all the kids put in being recognised and leading to them winning medals at a national level. That’s brilliant, and for a few of them, the next step will hopefully be to go on to compete internationally.

“Lucy is already at that level – she spends some of her time training at Edinburgh and Kettering and is already on the international pathway. If she keeps dedicating herself to the sport like she is, the sky is the limit.

“The great thing in the last year or so though is that all the children in the squad have been doing fantastic. It means a lot to finish top of the medal table and have the club recognised like that.”

Having opted to devote himself to judo when he called time on his culinary career, Glynn admits it has not always been easy to establish a new club in what remains a relatively niche sport.

However, with plans to expand into new geographical areas next year, FIJ Sportif (the FIJ stands for Forever In Judo) looks set to go from strength to strength, cementing its status as one of the fastest-growing clubs in the country.

“It was a big decision to go into coaching full-time, but it’s something I always knew that, deep down, I wanted to do,” said Glynn. “It got the stage where if I didn’t do it when I did, it was never going to happen.

“There have been a few ups and downs along the way – I think that’s only natural when you’re trying to grow a sports club from scratch – but it’s so rewarding when you see the kids growing and improving every time they train. I know I’ve made the right decision.”