Natalie Powell – 2x Olympian and Former World Ranked Number 1 – Judo

Today it is our privilege to bring you an interview with Natalie Powell, 2x Olympian and Former World Ranked Number 1 in Judo. We discuss Natalie’s personal stand-out moments from her career so far, her goals and plans for the future, plus much more…

Can you tell us about your journey from starting at Judo as a beginner to competing at the highest level of the sport?

I come from Beulah a small village in Mid Wales. I started judo at 8 years old at Irfon Judo Club in Builth Wells. As a child I enjoyed a range of sports; netball, athletics and tennis in particular. Being from mid-wales the opportunities for talented youngsters is limited. Once you start approaching National level there’s a lot of travelling needed to acquire coaching and competition of the required level. I was incredibly fortunate to have parents who enjoyed and were in a position to take me around the country to compete and train. Without them my journey would have been impossible.

I moved to Cardiff at 18 to study Biomedical Science at Cardiff University. At which time I started judo training on a pretty much full-time basis at the Welsh National centre in Cardiff. I won Cadet Nationals for the first time in my last year at 2018. Throughout juniors I was always there or there abouts in the UK rankings, but I was never No1. 

Managing Judo alongside my studies was always very challenging to balance. During this period was the closest I came to dropping out of Judo. I was cutting a lot of weight at the time to make 70kg and really wasn’t enjoying it. I made the decision to move up a weight in 2011 and got selected for my first European Championships (U23). This was the turning point for me. Judo very quickly became my priority and I began to improve quicker, with a focus shift to judo and not the weight.

In 2014 I began working with my now coach Darren Warner. We started working together 3 months before the Commonwealth Games where I went on to win Gold. Darren really changed my judo career. He introduced me to a whole new professional way of working, which I had no idea of previously. He helped me develop all aspects of my judo on and off the mat and my results just kept improving year after year. We were always looking for ways to be better. In 2016 I then qualified for my first Olympic Games ahead of the London Silver Medalist Gemma Gibbons. It was an incredibly challenging qualification, but I was very proud to get the Olympic ticket at the end.

What are your personal stand-out moments from your career as an athlete so far?

I’ve been very fortunate to have had some incredible moments in my career. Some of my favourites were; winning a World Championship Bronze medal in 2017 in Budapest with my parents in the crowd. Then later that year topping the World Ranking list and becoming World Ranked No1 after winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam. Winning the Commonwealth Games for Wales in 2014 was also very special as it was a childhood dream.

What advice would you give to someone who is demotivated or doesn’t know where to start with getting into sport and fitness?

I think being demotivated is inevitable at times. The important thing is to maintain disciplined and keep reminding yourself of the end goal. I find a habit tracker quite useful. It records how many days you’ve maintained the habit, and if you’re competitive like me you won’t want to lose your streak. Setting little personal challenges is also something that motivates and keeps me on track. For example, maybe running 5km in a certain time or lifting a certain weight in the gym. But everyone is different and it’s about finding something that makes you tick. Maybe you can only find motivation if you’re having fun, so maybe you need to add a social aspect to your training, maybe join a club or get a PT.

What’s your approach to finding balance between your priorities in different areas of your life?

When I do something, I tend to be all in on the one thing, so finding balance is something I’ve found very difficult in the past. Being totally consumed in something can be very rewarding and I’ve often believed that is the best way to achieve success. But there are no guarantees in sport, and giving everything doesn’t always result in the results you want. Post Tokyo Olympics I’ve been really trying to prioritise my family and social life more. I hope this will improve all aspects of my life. As to the best way to finding balance, I’m still figuring that out!

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to take their passion and turn it into a successful business/ career?

Work hard and smart. Develop yourself constantly and always be looking to learn and improve.

What are your goals and plans for the future?

My immediate goals are the Commonwealth Games in August and the World Championships in October. As for further ahead at the moment I’m unsure. I think I’d like a career in sport in some capacity, but I’m not exactly sure on the role yet.

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