Shintaro Higashi had an excellent wrestling career during his scholastic days at Scarsdale, however, he knew judo was still his love. A winner of numerous wrestling tournaments, a Section 1 title (in 2003) and owner of more than 100 victories, Higashi went on to a successful collegiate career at Hunter. Following his 2007 Hunter graduation, Higashi, traded in his wrestling singlet and returned to judo with one goal in mind -- the Olympics.
After college I became more serious and kept training for judo, said the 26-year-old Higashi. Higashi fought in the Olympic trials in 2008, but left disappointed. This disappointment made Higashi re-examine his commitment.
I had to train a little different, Higashi said. I began lifting a lot more and my body composition has changed a lot over the years. In high school, I relied on my throws in wrestling. After high school, I realized strength was more important, especially with judo.
Higashi, who was teaching judo classes at Brooklyn College and was a building supervisor, began dedicating his life to making the 2012 US Olympic judo team. He showed how focused he is when he recently left New York City and moved to Wakefield, Mass., approximately 25 minutes north of Boston, to train. He currently has a physical trainer, nutrionist and two judo coaches who work with him.
I needed to eliminate all of the distractions, said Higashi, who has a degree in psychology. I realized I had to do this for judo. I am more focused doing everything I need to do.
Higashi, who wrestled in the 215-pound weight class in high school, is competing in the 220-pound judo weight class. He is currently ranked 51st in the world and second in the country, behind Kyle Vashkulet, who is 29th in the world. His day usually begins at the dawn, depending on whether practice begins at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. Higashi will go for 90 minutes to two hours, return to eat breakfast and alternates between weight training and running. He said he will run a couple of miles, followed by 15 to 20 sprints that take a toll on him, even more so than the wrestling conditioning drills he did in high school and college. The day concludes with a minimum two-hour practice at night.
Higashi will begin his quest for the Olympic trials on June 15 when he leaves for Brazil. After Brazil, he will travel to Miami, then Venezuela, then El Salvador for tournaments in which he accumulates Olympic points for rankings. The World Championships will be held in Paris in August.
I feel good, at this point, stronger than I have been, Higashi said. I am on point with my judo and I know I am giving it more than 100 percent.
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