BY JOEY NOWAK
Ashley Fernando is an 11-year-old judo national champion who routinely takes down opponents in one fell swoop.
Unless, of course, that opponent is her 13-year-old brother.
“It's different with her,” said Anthony Fernando, a national champion himself. “I don't want to hurt her. I'm OK with hurting other people, but I get in trouble when I hurt her.”
The brother-sister tandem from Bonita is just one of the family ties at the 40th annual USJA Junior National Judo Championships this weekend at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego. Ashley Fernando took first place yesterday in her division and Anthony is scheduled to fight today. Anthony has a first-place title from the winter nationals in Ontario, Canada, and a second-place finish at last year's Junior Olympics. Ashley, who began judo when she was 3, has a trophy case that includes a gold medal from both those tournaments.
“Her brother was always there and as long as she didn't misbehave, she would join,” said Sara Fernando, Anthony and Ashley's mother. “Sometimes older kids would come in and say they didn't want to do it and people would tell them, 'If she can do it, you can.' ”
About half of the listed competitors who traveled to Southern California from all over the country have another fighter listed with the same surname next to them, exhibiting the sport's strong family link.
Few are stronger than those that support 12-year-old Julia De Mars, whose mother, AnnMaria, is a world champion and president of the U.S. Judo Association. Julia's older sister, Rhonda Rousey, brought home the lone U.S. Olympic medal in judo from Beijing last summer.
“It's good and it's bad,” said AnnMaria, who lives in Santa Monica. “You spend so much time together while you're out doing these things. I know so much more about my kids' lives. It was tough for Rhonda because her mom was the first world champion. But for Julia, her mom's a world champion and her sister is an Olympic bronze medalist. Julia says, 'Well, you guys always won.' And we tell her that's just how people remember it. We got thrown, too.”
With judo occupying so much of the Fernandos' schedule, Sara Fernando said it's valuable that the children learn more than just the technicalities of the sport.
“It's so neat,” she said. “They compete on the mat and when they're off, they're friends. We see the same people at every place. Afterward, the girl who took second is buying the girl who took first a souvenir.”
Ashley Fernando says she dreams of going to the Olympics, but the notion of someday outgrowing her brother – just for a small window of time – and taking him down makes her eyes glisten.
“Oh,” she said, “then I really want to continue.”
Joey Nowak is a Union-Tribune intern.
Union Tribune article