Commonwealth Games: Connie Ramsay, a fighter far travelled

By Keir MurrayBBC Sport Scotland
Feature: Scottish judo player Connie Ramsay

The Connie Ramsay at work on the mats is at odds with her persona when not in fight mode.

Her honeyed voice betrays none of the aggression that emerges when faced with an opponent intent on throwing her, pinning her down or inflicting a painful lock on her limbs.

Ranked 30th in the world, she is the International Judo Federation's top-ranked British woman in the sub-57kg category.

And she's working hard to improve on that standing, with Commonwealth and Olympic Games in mind.

Last week, Ramsay, originally from Tain on the north-eastern tip of Scotland's mainland, earned 48 ranking points for a seventh-placed finish from a Grand Prix event in Croatia.

This year the Edinburgh-based judoka has also fought in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Uruguay, Argentina, Spain, Portugal and America.

"I need to keep making sure that my points are ahead," the 25-year-old athlete explains.

"Not only am I fighting for the Commonwealth Games, I am also fighting for Rio. I have to push myself from 30th in the world to top 16 to qualify."

Ramsay's story is one of commitment, perseverance and guts.

Her interest stemmed from her brother's and parents' involvement in the sport.

Coach Billy Beavis at the Tain and Invergordon club guided her through a career that began before she had started school.

"Up north there weren't that many girls doing it. There were six or seven boys in the dojo, and me," she says.

"We used to do running, circuits and fighting and I'd get beaten up, up and down the mat.

"A lot of people would say, 'I'm not having any of this', but I had it in my head that I would get them next week.

"Although it never happened for a long time, eventually it came; I overtook the boys."

If it were doggedness that made her stick with the sport at primary school age, it was witnessing first hand as a young teenager the judo at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 that intensified her interest.

"It was different watching other athletes compete, especially at such a high level and just experiencing what they were going through," she recalls.

"We had quite a high medal tally in Manchester and that pushed me even more to make that my dream."

She gave up swimming and gymnastics, practised four times a week at her own club and began making the 530-mile round trip to Edinburgh once a week for a two-hour evening training session with the country's top talent.

She'd be up for school the next day.

"I wasn't the brightest at school so thinking about being an Olympic champion was a much better, more exciting dream for me," says Ramsay.

"It was a lot of commitment but I wouldn't have changed it for the world; it has made me a better judo player. It has helped me get to where I am now."

Ramsay admits that she was not an instant winner in competitive matches but refused to give up.

She explains: "I loved fighting and that's what always pushed me to keep coming back. I was always there or thereabouts.

"Once I changed into the senior level it was difficult because you're young and you're fighting fully grown adults who have their full strength.

"In that part of my career it was pretty tough. You'd be travelling everywhere and not winning.

"About two years ago I started winning in the European Cup, a B-level tournament, and I started getting invited by GB [British Judo] to A-class tournaments.

"Last year I won my first bronze medal in Istanbul and that helped me get to the next level.

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"I was in Miami two months ago and I got fifth place at the Grand Prix.

"I was fighting the girl who got bronze at the Olympics and another girl who was seventh or so in the world. It was good experience."

Ramsay is funded by Judo Scotland, through Sport Scotland, and is also on British Judo's programme, thanks to Lottery funding.

She says of Judo Scotland's help from their base in Ratho, near Edinburgh: "If it wasn't for them I wouldn't be doing half the tournaments.

"If I've not been selected for GB, they are always pushing me forward for the competitions that I need to do so that I can be selected by GB."

Ramsay's aim now is to earn selection for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games - and to repay the faith shown in her by her family and coaches.

"My parents have been a big part of my judo career," she adds.

"They have travelled up and down the country and all over Europe. They have taken me in the back of the car in my pyjamas. They have driven me so many miles.

"There can be seven girls selected for the Games. We've got until June until the team is selected. I need to keep working hard.

"I've never fought in a Games like the Commonwealth or the Olympics.

"I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so I am really looking forward to it."

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