So here it is, the first iteration of The 52 and we are starting with the uplifting story of two Scottish judoka who have battled back from despair to join forces at the 2018 European Veteran Judo Championships.
Four years after both medalled at the 2014 Commonwealth Games on home soil in Glasgow, Louise Renicks and Stephanie Inglis combined as competitor and coach respectively to claim a silver at the 2018 European Veteran Judo Championships in the same city earlier today (16th June).
But their journeys in between have been anything but straightforward, making this latest achievement even more special than it normally would be.
Following her silver in the 57kg at the Games four years ago, Inglis took a break from the sport in 2016 to go and teach English to underprivileged children in Vietnam. This is alone is enough to command the highest of respect, but it’s what happened next that is truly awe-inspiring.
Riding pillion on a motorbike on her way to school, Inglis’ skirt became caught in the wheel, causing a crash that left her with severe brain injuries amongst others. So serious was her situation that doctors told her family she had a 1% chance of survival.
But within a month she had battled off a number of infections and awakened from her coma. Just over a year later she had astounded everyone to recover to a point where she was planning on a return to the sport, aiming to compete at Birmingham 2022.
However there wasn’t to be a fairytale ending as she was forced to retire following medical advice, with doctors warning that one more knock to her brain could be life-changing.
For many this would have been a crushing blow after working so hard to reach the top again, but reading through Inglis’ retirement statement it is clear to see just how strong an individual she is.
Instead of letting the situation get the better of her, the words are from an individual who realises they have fought the toughest battle they will ever face and come out the other side on top.
One sentence in particular stands out as being the perfect testament of that:
“I know that I am capable of achieving anything in life.
Since that announcement the 29-year-old has turned to a career as an athlete mentor and coach, the latter of which has seen her link up with former team-mate Renicks, who herself has had a rough time since winning 52kg gold at Glasgow 2014.
Struggling with both a persistent shoulder injury and a lack of funding – something athletes in any minority sport will understand – Renicks made the ultimate sacrifice in 2015 as she gave up her hopes of qualifying for Rio 2016 to give sister Kimberley the best possible chance of making the Games instead.
The estimated figure for them both try try and qualify for Rio was £40,000 but, rather than struggle through, the elder sister made the painful to step away from the sport and instead help Kimberley both in financial terms and by becoming her coach. If that isn’t true sibling love then I don’t know what is.
While their goal wasn’t successful that time, the sisters have not given up and still have ambitions of combining to ensure Kimberley makes Tokyo 2020 instead.
Renicks is also the reason Inglis made the move into coaching after announcing her retirement, bringing the two together for the first time since medalling at their home Commonwealths.
In some ways this medal at the Veteran Europeans – Renicks’ first competition since retiring – has completed a circle which started in the same city four years ago.
They have gone from the highs of sport to having to deal with some of the toughest things life can throw at them but ,instead of being beaten, they have literally fought their way through adversity and are proving that no matter what sport and life throw at you, there is always a way through.
With both coaching the next crop of exciting young Scottish judoka, expect their legacy and influence to last for many years yet.
Lousie Renicks and Stephanie Inglis, you truly are an inspiration.