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Lakeside High School student Akina Yamada is competing at the USA Judo National and International Junior Olympic championships, starting Friday in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Lakeside High’s Akina Yamada poised for judo national tournament

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Akina Yamada.

She graduated from Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) High on June 2 with a 3.79 grade-point average. She has had to finish up her AA degree from Spokane Falls Community College this week. She has finals in geology, math and sociology and expects to finish with a similar GPA as she had at Lakeside.

She graduates from SFCC on Friday.

To cap things off, Yamada is competing in the 2017 USA Judo National and International Junior Olympic championships being staged at the Spokane Convention Center this weekend.

So how has she been able to balance graduating from Lakeside, studying for finals at SFCC and practicing for the national tournament?

“Judo is my passion, so when you have a passion you always find time for it,” Yamada said.

In late August, Yamada will head to Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa, where she plans to wrestle for four years.

The school is located two hours north of the state’s largest city, Des Moines.

Yamada took a visit in October.

“When I went, I fell in love with the place,” she said. “It’s a small, private NAIA school with about 1,000 students. And 85 percent of the students are athletes. I’ll get to spend the next four years with a bunch of athletes, so it will be awesome.”

She’ll finish up a bachelor’s degree the first two years in criminal justice and then pursue a master’s degree her final two years.

After all of that is done, she wants to be a police officer. At 5-foot-3 and 130 pounds, being a police officer may sound like she’s biting off more than she can chew.

She knows what she’s doing.

“I want to help people,” she said. “I’m not quite comfortable with the medical stuff. It’s hard to do much without getting a Ph.D. So judo and wrestling will be able to help me in physical situations.”

Yamada will compete in the oldest division for Junior Olympic judo athletes – for 17- to 20-year-olds. Three previous years, she’s placed as high as second.

But she hasn’t competed at a national tournament for two years. She had shoulder surgery last year following her wrestling season and had to miss nationals.

Yamada suspects she tore cartilage near the ball of her shoulder at a judo tournament two years ago. She dealt with the pain as long as she could.

“It was very painful,” she said. “It got to a point I couldn’t move my shoulder.”

She’s healed and ready for this weekend. But she does have some apprehension.

“I’m really nervous,” she said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve competed in such a high level tournament.”

She captured a fourth state high school judo title last month when the tourney was held at Kentwood High in Kent. She also placed seventh and eighth, respectively, in wrestling.

Judo is similar to Greco-Roman wrestling. Only upper-body action is allowed when the opponents are standing. When on the mat, just about anything goes, Yamada said. The objective is to immobilize an opponent.

Martial arts fighting is a combination of judo and wrestling. But Yamada has no desire to try the violent fighting.

“I really don’t like being punched in the face,” she said. “I feel like it would hurt a little bit.”

Her family and the Pacific Judo Academy in partnership with the Spokane Sports Commission were instrumental in landing the national meet.

Friday and Saturday will feature the U.S. tournament and Sunday will be an international competition. More than 900 athletes will compete in divisions from ages 6 to 20.

Athletes from all across the world have been arriving this week. A champion from Japan joined Yamada at practice Tuesday night.

Although Yamada plans to wrestle in college, she won’t be finished with judo after this weekend.

“I plan on competing in judo until I’m very old,” Yamada said. “As for now, this will be my last tournament until I come home next May.”