Samohi senior Taira Sakamoto participates in an international judo competition

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Samohi senior Taira Sakamoto had never been to Europe until last month when she traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina with her father to compete in the World Cadet Judo Championships.

Sakamoto, who has been practicing judo since the age of five, qualified for the competition by placing second at the Junior Olympic National Championships in San Jose, Calif., last June.

At the recent international competition, she faced athletes from Greece and Uzbekistan in the women’s 52 kg category. She said some of the rules at international level were different and it took her some getting used to, but she thinks she learned a lot from the experience.

“Even though we didn’t all speak the same language, seeing all these girls, with my same interests, all in one place was just amazing,” she said.

Besides judo, Sakamoto also wrestles and is the captain of Samohi’s mixed wrestling team. Growing up practicing both sports, she was aware of the lack of female presence.

“These are both male-dominated sports, so not having a lot of female role models around me was difficult,” she said.

In recent years, however, she has seen this change and has been involved in expanding the sport for girls in Samohi.

“The girls’ program has grown tremendously,” she says. “It started with three girls, myself included, and now we’re promoting it more – it’s the fastest growing women’s sport, I believe.”

Samohi’s team now has 15 girls, and according to data from the National Wrestling Coaches Association, the number of women competing in high school wrestling has grown from 804 in 1994 to more than 28,000 in 2021.

“Having 15 new girls coming in this year is just amazing and being able to lead them is like a totally different experience,” Sakamoto said.

She said the wrestling team trains every day, with weight training in the morning starting at 6:30 a.m. Besides her judo training, which she does in Hollywood Judo, it’s a lot to juggle.

“But honestly, being in these sports made my experience in high school,” she said. “All the people I’ve met through them, all the connections I have now, it wouldn’t be the same without it.”

Sakamoto is now applying to colleges and unsure if she will continue to compete in either sport, especially since few colleges have a judo program. Either way, she said she learned a lot both that she will take with her and can apply throughout her life, including determination, perseverance and the ability to overcome. challenges.

“Especially with judo, people think it’s very hard, but it’s mostly self-defense,” she said. “You use what your opponent gives you, it’s not just like ‘oh the strongest person wins’, even if someone is a lot heavier you can still use their momentum against them and beat them.”

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