A University of Stirling sports scholar will this month become the first woman – and second person ever – to represent Trinidad and Tobago in judo at the Olympics.
Gabriella Wood will make history when she sports the colours of her Caribbean island nation in Tokyo – following in the footsteps of her compatriot Christopher George, who, in 2016, became the first judoka from Trinidad and Tobago to compete at the Olympics.
Gabriella – a first-year Sports Studies student – believes her scholarship at Stirling, combined with the support of her Clackmannanshire-based coach Lee Calder, were pivotal in her qualification success. The 23-year-old said: “I am absolutely delighted to have qualified for the Olympics – and incredibly proud to be representing Trinidad and Tobago. It is an honour to represent my country and it has been a long time in the making – I'm really excited about competing at the Games but, of course, there's pressure there too.
“To be the first woman to compete in judo at the Olympics for Trinidad and Tobago is incredible – and everyone back home is really happy for me. I am grateful for all of the training and support I've received from my judo coach Lee and from my strength and conditioning coach Josh at the University of Stirling – they've been working hard to help me achieve my potential and we're so glad that it has now paid off.”
Gabriella Wood - in action on the University campus - will take on the world's best in Tokyo.
Gabriella was born and raised in the town of Santa Cruz, Trinidad, and was introduced to judo during her school years in the country's capital Port of Spain. In 2015, she earned silver at the Pan American Junior Open in Panama and went on to participate in training camps in Mexico and later Hungary.
In 2018, Gabriella visited family in Scotland and, while there, trained at the National Training Centre in Edinburgh – and it was while competing in a team event that she was introduced to Lee, who runs the Judo Club Esprit in Alloa. Gabriella explained: “I met Lee while I was competing in a team event and he gave me some pointers around my technique. I didn't have a coach at that stage, so we started working together – and I've been based at his gym in Alloa ever since.”
Gabriella began studying at the University of Stirling in January this year after successfully applying for an individual sports scholarship – which provides strength and conditioning support, academic flexibility, complimentary access to its world-class sports facilities and a tuition fee contribution. Over the past seven months, she has been preparing for her Olympic bid with the support of the University's Strength and Conditioning Coach, Josh Walsh.
“The sports scholarship at Stirling has been excellent,” she said. “It has enabled me to focus on my judo, while giving me the flexibility to meet my academic requirements. It has also allowed me to work closely with Josh in the University's high-performance gym and that has had a real positive impact on my physical development and preparation in the run up to the Games.”
Gabriella is supported by judo coach Lee Calder (left) and the University's Strength and Conditioning Coach, Josh Walsh (right).
Gabriella will depart for Tokyo on July 19 – 11 days before she is set to compete in the +78kg category at the Nippon Budokan, the spiritual home of Japanese martial arts.
“I just can't wait to arrive in Japan now and get started,” Gabriella said. “This is undoubtedly the highlight of my career so far and I’m looking forward to pushing myself on the world stage – and hopefully inspire other judoka from Trinidad and Tobago to follow their dreams.”
Lee, who will be travelling with Gabriella, said: “The achievement of qualifying for the Olympic Games is a fantastic result for Gabriella; she has worked hard and tirelessly in pursuit of her goal – and to be the first female judoka from her country is amazing. This is something that can never be achieved again, but hopefully will inspire other young girls to believe that they also can achieve their dreams.
“I am so happy to have been a part of Gabriella's journey – we have built a good relationship over the time that I have been her coach and I’m so proud of her.
“I'm looking forward to attending an Olympic Games. I never thought, when I started coaching judo that I would have the opportunity to coach at an event of this stature – the pinnacle of our sport – and walk a player to the Olympic mat. Although the challenge will be hard, it will be a great experience for both Gabriella and myself.”