It hasn’t taken Mason Bruneau long to make a name for himself in the realm of Canadian judo. In his first year of competition the Hay River native picked up silver and gold medals at his first two competitions, a fourth place finish at the under-16 national championships, and is currently ranked at the top of his age group.
Not bad for someone who isn’t even old enough to drive.
Bruneau, a grade nine student at Ecole Boreale, was recently recognized for his efforts as this year’s recipient of the Aboriginal Sport Circle of the NWT’s athlete of the year at the group’s annual banquet on Oct. 28 in Yellowknife.
Bruneau’s sensei, Mario Desforges, said he was one of the more reluctant students when Desforges started a local judo program three years ago. Bruneau admitted he didn’t want to try the sport when Desforges first introduced him to it.
“After I got into it, I got hooked,” he said.
“I can’t leave.”
Last year, Bruneau, a blue belt judoka, picked up a silver medal in the St. Boniface Open in Manitoba, a gold medal and the title of grand champion at the Edmonton International Open, and a fourth place finish at the Canadian U-16 Judo Championships in Lethbridge, Alberta.
“It was pretty good,” Bruneau said of the feat. “My second competition, gold. First competition, silver.”
Winning the athlete of the year award was the icing on the cake, Bruneau explained.
“I was actually really proud to get that award,” he said. “It’s the first time in my family that someone got a high level award like that. It’s pretty cool.”
In the three years he has known Bruneau, Desforges said he has transformed into a more self-confident young man due to his dedication to his sport.
“We showed him the way, gave him the opportunity, and he took it,” Desforges explained.
As his love for the sport grew, Bruneau said he made a commitment to improve his diet, which included eliminating pop.
“I wanted to be in shape, and get all muscular,” he said. “Pop doesn’t really help.”
Bruneau’s new diet, coupled with an increased dedication to training, has allowed him to advance quickly in the sport.
“He’s faster,” Desforges said. “When I fight with him, I feel two to three days of pain.”
This year Bruneau has his sights set on winning another medal at the national championships and securing himself a spot on Team NWT for the 2011 Canada Games, which will be held in Halifax, Nova Scotia in February.
“From there I can go international,” Bruneau explained, noting his long-term goal is to compete for Canada at the Olympics.
Last weekend, Bruneau headed to Yellowknife to get some training in with his sensei. He will then take part in two “high-level” competitions, one in Quebec and the other in Toronto, before returning to the NWT.
“(I’ll) come back here, take a little break, and then do it all over again,” he explained.
As he became more successful in the sport, the attention focussed on Bruneau has increased – especially among the younger students at the school. He’s still getting used to it, he admitted.
“Pretty soon, I probably won’t have much of a choice,” he said. “If I keep winning competitions it’ll be a little hard.”