For Tacoma judo star Travis Stevens, it's no pain, no gold
Travis Stevens talks about pain the way we might discuss waking up in the morning. It's just a part of his day, always has been. There's no use obsessing...
Seattle Times staff columnist
2012 Summer OlympicsLondon, July 27- Aug. 12
• 26 sports, 39 disciplines
• 34 venues
• 8.8 million tickets
• 10,500 athletes
• 302 medal events
Did you know?
Judo made its first appearance as a medal sport at the 1964 Tokyo Games.
Travis Stevens talks about pain the way we might discuss waking up in the morning. It's just a part of his day, always has been. There's no use obsessing over it.
The judo star from Tacoma, a legitimate medal contender in the upcoming London Olympics, tore his hamstring in January, rushed back and strained his neck during training the next month. Then he broke a bone in his foot. After being forced to take a couple of months off, Stevens returns to competition this month, and if he gets hurt this time, the 26-year-old will simply grind through it as he pursues his dream to win an Olympic gold medal.
In his sport, injuries are a given. Not a year goes by without several of them. In Stevens' mind, his body is telling him that he's right on pace for a stellar 2012.
"The way this year has started, I'm seeing it as a blessing in disguise," Stevens said. "This way, my body gets a little bit of rest because there's no telling what I would've done to it if I were healthy enough to train. I want this so bad."
Stevens is, and we say this nicely, crazy. He's more intense than a bear who was denied dinner. He finished ninth in the Beijing Olympics four years ago, and he was so upset that he trained relentlessly in the ensuing months until his hamstring separated from its bone.
"I was so dehydrated from competing that I got such a severe cramp that my muscle pulled completely off the bone," Stevens said. "I was so close last time, and I didn't want to risk losing by taking a day off."
Stevens feels that he has been playing catch-up for most of his life. That's because, when he was 11, he suffered a traumatic knee injury — "I ripped up everything in the knee that could be damaged," he said — after a kid fell on him horsing around at a dojo.
It took Stevens four years to recover and regain the confidence to play sports again. Since then, he has been a maniac trying to be the best judo competitor in the world.
"It took me four years to get over the mental aspect of, 'I'm not going to hurt myself again,' " Stevens said. "Now, I don't worry about injuries. I've been through the worst.
"It's hard to say how good I could be if I hadn't lost four years. I try not to think about it. I could be four years better. I just try to make every day count."
Stevens competes in the 81 kg (178.5 pounds) division. He's a fighter who has improved his skill level, technique and strategy over time. He lives in Boston, but he returned to Tacoma for a visit last month. Now, his preparation for the Olympics will reach his typical insane level.
Sometimes, he will train five times a day. Such dedication has helped him become a nine-time World Cup, Grand Prix and Grand Slam medalist, a four-time world team member and a two-time Pan American Games champion.
He seeks the ultimate prize now.
"I don't want to just stand anywhere on the podium in London," Stevens said. "I want to be on top of it. You don't put in this kind of effort, working out five times a day for four years, to come in second."
In Beijing, Stevens was penalized twice and lost to eventual gold medalist Ole Bischof of Germany. Later, he lost to Brazil's Tiago Camilo, who tied for the bronze medal, in a tight match.
As a raw 22-year-old battling more with tenacity than savvy, Stevens was so close to winning a medal. He vows not to lose in the same manner again.
"It was the biggest disappointment I've ever had," he said. "I went into the Games with an ego problem. I was humbled. It ate away at me for months and months. It still does today."
For Stevens, the injuries pale in comparison to the pain of disappointment. But the discipline required to make a comeback are the same for both.
It requires determination and patience. Stevens has no problem with the former. The latter might define whether he achieves his dream.
"I'm a completely different player now," Stevens said. "In competitions, I have gone from randomly being on the podium to consistently being on the podium. The opportunity to compete in the Olympics again, it will mean a lot. I just hope I don't screw it up like I did the last time."
Once Stevens' pain — physical and mental — subsides, it'll be hard to bet against his toughness.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com.
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About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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