NO one would dream of picking a fight with Olympic judo medallist Sally Conway.
But when she was bullied at school as a shy 10-year-old girl, she took up judo to give her confidence and boost her self-esteem.
“It brought me out of my shell. I loved it from the first session and never looked back,” said Sally, Scotland’s first individual Olympic medallist in judo.
Now she is passing on her love of the sport and encouraging young girls to take it up in her role as Judo Girls Rock ambassador.
The successful campaign has seen a 13.7% growth in junior female membership since its launch in 2014, according to JudoScotland.
“Judo is a great sport for girls as it’s so sociable,” says Sally, 31, who lifted bronze at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
“As soon as you step on the mat, you have a friend. And you’re getting fit and having fun.”
She is heartened by the uptake of Judo Girls Rock, which has seen 184 girls come through eight female-only clubs around Scotland.
“It’s fantastic to see so many girls trying the sport. I love walking into a judo club and seeing how much the girls are enjoying themselves. I keep up with them all on social media, which is fun.”
Judo Girls Rock helps girls overcome obstacles to taking part in sport such as concerns about body image and lack of confidence.
Tony Penfold of JudoScotland said: “We were concerned that although our elite women athletes were successful internationally, there was an imbalance between male and female membership.
“It’s a physical, close-contact sport so we ensured each club has a female coach on the mat at every session to help girls feel more comfortable in the judo environment.
“We also presented judo as a movement-based sport, like dancing.
“We are fortunate to have Sally Conway as an amazing role model, who is keen and supportive of the young girls.”