By Paul Martin, Sportsbeat
Keen musician Caitlin Leigh hopes to continue hitting all the right notes on the judo mat as she prepares for the next step on a road she hopes will lead to Los Angeles.
The Blackburn ace, 18, recently finished her A-Levels at St Wilfrid’s C of E Academy and will begin a sport and exercise therapy degree at the University of Wolverhampton, also home to the National Judo Centre, later this month.
Leigh, who was born with congenital glaucoma, missed out on her opportunity to go for a fifth national title at the VI (Visually Impaired) National Championships last weekend due to illness but plans to continue pursuing her twin passions in the years to come.
A big night in 🇩🇪 for @Joelclarkekhan
High jump star Joel, an @EntainGroup-supported athlete, is competing at the @Euro_Champs in Munich - watch him live on @BBCOne and @BBCSport! 📺 pic.twitter.com/WZgeLFRMLU
— Pitching In (@PitchingIn_) August 16, 2022
“Judo and music are my two things which let me have a break from the world,” she said.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing and listening, and have written a few of my own songs.
“I’ve performed in front of my school and at Band on the Wall, a pretty big venue in Manchester. I get the same feelings of excitement about being on stage and on the [judo] mat.
“I use music to get myself in the zone ahead of judo and I listen to Whatever It Takes by Imagine Dragons – that’s always been my motto.
“Looking ahead, music will be something I enjoy and judo will be my main focus. My training will increase when I go to University, as I have access to judo on campus, and it’s just about gaining experience and getting stronger.
“The overall goal is to go to the Paralympics, hopefully in LA [in 2028].”
Leigh began her judo adventure at the age of five and pinpoints being in the crowd for Sam Ingram’s silver at the London 2012 Paralympics as the moment which sparked her own ambition to compete on the biggest stage.
It's been a crazy ride for @waltonhershamfc over the past few years
They've got the youngest owners in the UK, have more TikTok followers than some Premier League clubs but now they're ready to make the step up on the pitch 👇
— Pitching In (@PitchingIn_) August 19, 2022
She already has silver medals at the 2019 Commonwealth Championships and 2020 VI German Open under her belt and credits the twin influences of Olympian Sophie Cox, her coach at Bacup Judo Club, and guide dog Honey with propelling her to even greater heights.
“Sophie took it upon herself to make me a gym programme, she is always checking in on me to see how I’m doing and whether I ever need to talk,” she said.
“If we need to talk about competitions or goals, she’s always there to help me push to achieve them.
“Having a guide dog also helps me improve my judo. As a visually impaired person, I often walk with my head down to see where I’m going – that bad posture transferred into my judo.
“Since I got Honey, it’s made me more upright and it’s helping my judo a lot.”
Leigh’s ambitions are being boosted by funding from a partnership between SportsAid and Pitching In, a multi-million-pound grassroots sport investment programme established by Entain.
She is one of 50 athletes receiving financial support through the initiative and said: “It’s really helpful.
“It lets me travel to competitions and have all the equipment to try and improve.
“They [SportsAid] also put on great workshops – we’ve had nutritionists, sleep specialists, and other things we wouldn’t normally have access to as young athletes.”
Entain, owner of Ladbrokes and Coral, is proud to be championing the next generation of British sporting heroes by providing talented young athletes with financial support and personal development opportunities in partnership with SportsAid. Visit entaingroup.com to find out more