Originally aired on News Center Maine – December 17, 2018
Judo is a peaceful practice… of throwing your opponent. Sense the sarcasm? It’s an art that caught the eyes of a 6-year-old in Sabattus, who had found her calling.
Now 13-years-old, Kaci-Lee Ver Sluis has medaled in the Junior Olympics as a Judo athlete, and her trophies line the walls of her garage.
“The concept is using the opponents weight and force against them as your weapon,” explains Sensei – or instructor – Keith Nice with Portsmouth Judo Club. “So someone’s coming at you, you get under them and throw them.”
Sensei Nice started judo when he was just 6-years-old… then again, so do a lot of his students. “We have a class of 10 to 14 kids,” he says. “I’d say five or six of them are just 6-years-old. It’s like any sport, like hockey, you start them really young they just do really well. I got my kids into it super young, they didn’t really have a choice.”
Once or twice a month Kaci travels two hours to New Hampshire to practice, but most of her training is done in her Sabattus garage, where she watches videos and tutorials on YouTube.
“I had been doing judo for 2 1/2 years and I don’t remember if I medaled but I did really good and I was like I love this. I love it. I’m going to keep doing it,” Kaci remembers when she first started the sport. “Then I went to the Junior Olympics for the first time and I got a bronze medal and I was like, ‘Okay it’s my sport.'”
She loved it so much that when her local dojo closed, she decided to teach herself. Now at 13-years-old Kaci and her mother Kate travel the world for competitions, which can get expensive. Kaci holds bottle drives and does odd jobs for donations to help pay for her trips abroad.
Kaci is in the 8th grade with Maine Virtual Academy, meaning she can go to school anywhere. She takes her classes online and can still interact with other students during set class times. If she misses a lesson, she watches a recording later. “I can do it from anywhere,” she says. “I’ve done it from Peru when I was at competition I did it from the Dominican.”