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Meet Kelita Zupancic, Olympic Judoka

by Jude Jacob Kayton March 03, 2020

Meet Kelita Zupancic, Olympic Judoka


About Kelita

Kelita Zupancic was born in Whitby, Ontario, Canada. She is an Olympic Judoka who competed in the  London 2012 and the Rio 2016 Olympics and won gold medals for Canada at the 2010, 2013 and 2015 Pan Am Judo championships.

My journey as a Judoka

I started practicing Judo because my father was a black belt. As a child, I watched him, and I began Judo at 5 years old, which is the earliest you can start. There are a lot of Olympic athletes in my town, Whitby, Ontario, Canada; it’s a huge sports town. My path in Judo came naturally to me; I was always strong, even as a little girl, and I was always very competitive. 

The Sydney 2000 Olympics was the first Olympics that I really remember.  Nicolas Gill, the man who later coached me for the London and Rio Olympics, won a silver medal for Judo Men’s Half-Heavyweight that year. Seeing that it was possible for a Canadian to win an Olympic medal had a huge influence on me. At school that year, we had to write autobiographies and include our plans for our future careers. I knew then that I wanted to compete in the Olympics.

Training for the Olympics

Training is all consuming; it’s a lifestyle and there are no days off. I think it’s comparable to owning your own business; you can never do enough. In Judo, there are no seasons, so it’s all year round training. In addition, I travel a minimum of 6 months a year. I learned to overcome homesickness at a young age.

Right now, I train 2-3 times a day. This includes weight training, cardio sessions, judo technical sessions, drilling and fighting. Judo is an interesting sport, because it requires power, strength, speed, and endurance; basically, you have to be well rounded. My biggest focus is on having a balanced body, because in combat the weakest point breaks first. 


On happiness

There's a lot of mental preparation involved in preparing to compete. I see a psychologist weekly and a meditation teacher every day. I try to keep my meditation routine simple and meditate 20 minutes a day. I usually meditate in a bathtub if I have one, but, if not, I use a quiet room with meditation music and a candle. I prefer doing this in the evening before bed. When I meditate, I increase my level of happiness and joy. The happier I feel, the better I perform.  As an athlete, it’s important to create routines and meditating regularly is part of training. 

Training is very different for men and women. Women don’t compartmentalize training and personal lives, so it’s important for us to balance all aspects of our lives.

In general, women need to feel supported in order to compete and win.

We need a coach who cares not just about us as athletes, but also as people. My boyfriend coaches me, so we spend a lot of time comparing thoughts, figuring out the best way to train and developing strategies. I believe that women are born and men are made. Female athletes need to be given space to be seen and heard, and then, we feel empowered. If a coach doesn’t give female athletes this space to express themselves, they will feel disempowered and their performance will reflect these feelings.

My proudest moments

  1. The Olympic games were two of my proudest moments. Both times I competed, I was truly happy. 
  1. I am proud to share my journey with someone who supports my dream. As I was learning about myself and preparing for the Olympics, I met my soulmate  Travis Stevens. I was 23 years old and number 1 in the world in Judo. When you are so happy, you attract happiness. He walked into my life, so empowered and strong.  I am also grateful to have witnessed him winning his medal. When he won, he was like a child again, so free and happy. 
  1. Overall, I’m proud of the life I’ve created for myself. I’m heading towards my third and last Olympic games. 

    I want to win this time with GRACE.

    I want to keep living life to the fullest.

Building resilience

Meditation is key, but it is also important to surround yourself with people who give you perspective: coaches, friends, parents, psychologist, etc. These people take you out of the spiral of your thoughts and remind you that there’s more to life than doing Judo. It’s really about perspective and it’s important to find balance and take the pressure off yourself. Remember: you are more than what you do! As women, we are perfectionists and are hard on ourselves. 

Secondly, it is essential to welcome a state of gratitude and really embrace the feeling, especially when you are going through a lot. I try to combine this state of gratitude with the feeling of hopefulness. If I don’t feel these emotions, I’m out of alignment; gratitude and hopefulness bring me back to a state of balance.  

Sweat & glow

Sweating is so purifying: releasing hormones and chemicals to make you feel good. There’s so much passion and hard work that goes behind my sweat.I love sweating: it is a sign that I’m pushing my body and mind.

Why I love FRÉ

My biggest challenges to keeping my skin blemish-free are that people are touching my face and I’m rolling in sweat constantly.I’m also photographed a lot and all images are makeup free, so having clear skin is really important; it makes me feel confident.

Skincare is as important to me as my judo routine.

I have dry skin, so my favorite products are the oils  I AM LOVE and  GLOW BODY. Other than  DETOX ME which I use every couple of days, I use ALL my FRÉ products on a daily basis: morning, night, and in between!  I love how FRÉ supports women who sweat, creating confidence around athleticism.

Rapid Fire:

  • Favorite exercise?  I start every training with a 90/90 stretch to open up my hips. Everything comes from the hips and this is a good exercise for everyone. 
  • What comes to mind when you think of FRÉ?  Fresh. 
  • What are you most excited about in life right now?  The Olympics. 
  • What’s something you’d still love to learn?  There is so much! I am planning on being a mother and getting pregnant. I’m excited for that and the challenges ahead.
  • If you were a hashtag, what would you be?  #sweatinggold. It’s about the daily grind, but also a higher purpose. The Olympics is more than just sport. I feel that people are chosen to represent their countries and give back. Olympic champions have qualities the world needs to see. 
  • Who do you admire the most?  My mother. 
  • What is your mantra?  I fight the way I feel.” Competing is about my whole mindset, my psychology and being happy, so I don’t settle for anything that doesn’t bring me joy.

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