End of league team has silver lining for Aussie athlete
JUDO: Indigenous trailblazer Francis Newman still craved a contact sport when her rugby league team folded in Bamaga yet never imagined it would be judo filling the void in the Bahamas.
Her silver medal on day one of competition at the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games was wonderful reward for the dreams that are possible even when the combat sport had never been taught until five years ago in her remote community near the tip of Cape York.
Francis, 16, is the daughter of Northern Peninsula Area mayor Edward Newman and her pride is obvious in broadening the sporting landscape for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders.
"My local league team stopped playing and this new martial arts kind of thing started and it's been really good for me," Francis said after her success in the -70kg division.
"I'm so proud to be representing my culture and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples.
"I had a good role model with my uncle who showed that you can achieve things and see different countries even from a little town like ours."
Her uncle just happens to be Nathan Jawai, the towering basketballer who became the first Indigenous Australian to play in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves before his more recent impact for the Cairns Taipans in the NBL.
The Year 11 student is grateful that sensei Xavier Barker set up judo's most isolated dojo in Bamaga.
"We started in the town hall and now we are in a small gym with 20-30 kids enjoying judo and its discipline," Newman said.
"I still follow the Brisbane Broncos and would love to play league again ... if ever we get a proper team."
Newman's success was part of an upbeat opening in judo at the Youth Games with Sydney's Tim Hollingbery (+90kg) winning gold and Canberra's Connor Smith (-90kg) and Sydney's Uros Nikilic (-73kg) also taking silver.
Hollingbery, 16, made no secret of his childhood martial arts mash-ups with older brother Tom and Adam being just as important as early technical skills in building his vibe for the demanding sport.
A hole in the hallway wall at his Plumpton home in western Sydney is still to be fixed after one out-of-control wrestling and throwing match.
"Strangles, choke holds, smashing into walls, falling on beds...all the fun stuff growing up gave me a liking for judo when I was finding ways to fight back against my older brothers," Hollingbery said with a laugh.
As impressive as Hollingbery's gold was the manner in which the judokas shrugged off the Australian team's travel ordeal just getting from Brisbane to Nassau, the capital of this idyllic dot in the Caribbean.
The haul stretched to 40 hours for him. At least he could devour two steaks and pound the protein so he could weighed in at 113kg while teammates like Newcastle's Daniel Villani (-60kg) was on water and lettuce to make sure he met the weigh-in standards.