The Army Corporal who defied school bullies to fight at the Commonwealth Games

L-R: Sarah tastes victory as a young judoka and today, in her Commonwealth Games judogi.

Corporal Sarah Hawkes, of the Adjutant General’s Corps (AGC), is a full-time athlete representing Northern Ireland in the Judo at this year’s Commonwealth Games. She is one of six UK Armed Forces personnel who are competing or coaching at this year’s Games.

She explains how the core skills of Judo and soldiering have complimented each other throughout her career.

I got into Judo because I had a bit of bother at school and was being bullied, so my mum suggested I try it out to boost my confidence, and it worked. My mum, brother and sister all did it with me, and they’ll be with me again, cheering me on, as I step out to fight today.

I knew the Army was into sport and would support you if you wanted to pursue it, but I didn’t realise the extent to which they do that. My first posting after joining the Army in 2012 was to Germany, where I had my first taste of high-level competition in the Judo Bundesliga. On returning to the UK, I continued to compete nationally, then internationally, and it’s only grown from there.

Read more: How RAF sport led AS1 Luke Pollard to the Commonwealth Games

Without a doubt, my sport made me a more effective soldier, because you pick up transferable skills in judo that can be easily applied to life in the Army. With judo it’s about being robust, very physically fit, disciplined and having a competitive streak and all those qualities are needed to succeed in the Army. Sportspeople make very good soldiers and soldiers make very good sportspeople.

I wouldn’t have made it [to the Commonwealth Games] without the support I’ve had from the Army, as I simply wouldn’t have been able to train as much as the people I’m competing against. It’s thanks to the unit, who saw my potential and encouraged me to develop it, that I pull the results I do.

Above: Sarah dons her Commonwealth Games kit ahead of her fights.

It was their call to release me from the Army in 2016, allowing me to compete and train full-time at the GB Centre of Excellence in Walsall, and then when I suffered a severe hamstring injury two years later, they supported me through my recovery and rehab.

The Army Sports Control Board gives me three grants a year to help me to attend judo tournaments, whilst financial support from the AGC made it possible to get to the Commonwealth Games qualifying event in Senegal. It was there that I won one of my two bronze medals, the second of which automatically secured me a place on the Olympics qualification list.

Read more: From boxing beginner to international coach: WO2 Baz Philpott’s Army boxing journey

I’m particularly proud to represent Northern Ireland. When I compete on an international stage it’s normally to represent Great Britain, which I am proud to do, but with the Commonwealth Games it’s the only chance I get to represent my wee country.

There’s certainly an element of pressure that comes with that because I don’t want to let my country down, so I’m determined to do the best I can. I also feel really proud to represent the Armed Forces, specifically my Corps, who have pulled out all the stops to support me.

I’m feeling absolutely ecstatic about participating and am very hopeful for a medal. I’ve had a bit of an injury going in but I’ll do the best I can and hopefully I’ll be taking something back.



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