Tonbridge judoka Jemima Yeats-Brown is no stranger to a grapple, but her sister’s battle with cancer is the fight fuelling her quest for a second Commonwealth Games medal.
Yeats-Brown and her family got the devastating news in October that elder sister Jenny, 28, had been diagnosed with a brain tumour for which she started chemotherapy and radiotherapy that month.
Having stormed to a shock bronze as a last-minute call-up to Glasgow 2014, Yeats-Brown, 26, is bidding to return to the podium in Birmingham this summer to try and put a smile back on her sister’s face.
“It was tough because we are a really close family and when I’m away competing it’s hard to manage home life and judo life,” said Yeats-Brown.
“She's in hospital and it’s her goal to be well enough to come and watch me. She doesn’t usually get to watch anywhere in the world, so to be watching me in Birmingham would be really special.
“Whenever I’m having a hard day or a hard session, it’s nothing compared to what she’s going through, so it definitely picks me up and I just think of her.
“To come away with a medal or even a gold medal would definitely put a smile on her face.”
Yeats-Brown is one of more than 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full-time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
Her Tokyo 2020 dream gained momentum with fifth-place finishes at the World Championships and Paris Grand Slam.
But the chance to appear at the Olympics was cruelly and instantaneously ripped away from her after tearing her ACL for the third time three years ago.
While fighting in Budapest on July 11, 2019 - the date etched in Yeats-Brown’s memory - she suffered an injury so severe that she feared for her career.
She said: “I was really disappointed because I felt like I was on a good run with results.
“I felt I was in a good position to be pushing to qualify but I tore my ACL and the ligaments in my elbow at the same time, so that put a stop to it.
“I got up and even in that moment I was questioning whether I would even be able to do sport again because I knew straight away that it wasn’t good.
“My coach carried me out of the arena and I knew I was in for a long stint of rehab. It was definitely challenging the third time but I knew what I was in for with the recovery for that.
“It takes a toll, mentally, always getting knocked back and knowing how much you have to do to get back to where you were, so it was a pretty tough period.
“But I think you come out stronger knowing you’ve put the work in just to get back fit as well as going forward and fighting the best girls in the world, so I think it gives me a bit of an edge knowing how hard I’ve had to work to come back.”
Now fit and firing and having dropped to 70kg from the 78kg she was fighting at for the Tokyo cycle, Yeats-Brown is relieved that she no longer has to pile on the calories.
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will comprise of more than 400 athletes, and having secured her place on the squad, Yeats-Brown is looking to capitalise on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for further medal success in her home country.
Her first taste of the Commonwealth Games came about in unusual fashion when her mum fielded a phone call from the team leader enquiring about her availability after an injury two days before the competition.
At the time Yeats-Brown was about to play Laser Quest at Center Parcs on a family holiday, but had to cancel and ask her dad to drive her straight to the airport to fly up to Scotland instead.
Incredibly Yeats-Brown - who was only registered two hours before the deadline - came through the repechage to claim bronze, forcing her family to cancel their planned pedalo trip and bolt to the nearest sports bar to watch history unfold.
She said: “To finish it off with a bronze medal meant it was a bit of a crazy week for the whole family. It’s really good to be selected this time with a bit more notice, so I can let family and friends know."
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