PISCATAWAY, NJ – Piscataway has been a hotbed for athletics. And while most of the athletes in town have gone on and had success at the pro ranks for football in the NFL like Malcolm Jenkins (Saints and Eagles), Kyle Wilson (Jets and Saints), Anthony Davis (49ers), and others, a new young star right now is finding success in something else: Judo.
Meet Colton Brown, a 24 year-old judoka who recently punched his ticket to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Brown will compete alongside Westfield judoka Nick Delpopolo.
The road to Rio has been a long one for the 90kg (198-pound) 6-foot-1 Brown. Originally playing the dominant sport in town, football, donning the black and gold like many before and after him as a kid, Brown broke his leg and never put on the pads and helmet again.
So how did Brown get into judo, which isn’t exactly a trendy sport of choice in Piscataway? It is all because of his father, Jeff, who competed in the sport himself.
"Judo isn’t very popular in Piscataway, but it is extremely popular worldwide,” said Brown to TAPinto Piscataway, who lived in town until he graduated from PHS in 2009 before heading off to San Jose State on scholarship to advance his judo skills. “My dad [who still lives there] forced me to do judo after I sustained an injury playing Pop Warner Football and gained a bit of weight.
“When I started at the age of 11, I was terrible,” he said. “I had no enthusiasm to do it and I would try to purposely lose matches. I did this with the hope that my dad would get fed up and take me out of the sport, but that didn’t happen.”
But then something clicked.
“About a year later, I found myself at the Junior National Championships down in Florida actually enjoying myself,” Brown said. “I ended up winning that tournament and then watching the Summer Olympics later that month. I remember staying up late to watch the man who is now my coach, Jimmy Pedro, win a Bronze Medal (at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece). That was the moment that I realized that I wanted to compete at the highest level possible in the sport.”
Brown first learned from the great Yoshiada Yonezuka, or Coach “Yone”, a two-time United States Olympic Team coach at the Cranford Karate and Judo Center for six years. And instead of going to college right away, Yone encouraged him to go to Japan and train at Nihon University, spending four tough months on the other side of the world without knowing how to speak the native language.
“I trained six-to-seven hours per day which was the hardest experience of my life,” Brown said.
But in addition to his experience in Japan, Brown actually got to help train the 2012 U.S. Judo Olympic team, which gave him the inside track to possibly compete for Team U.S.A. this year in 2016.
“I got the opportunity to go to the Olympics in 2012 (in London) as a training partner and 2016 Olympic hopeful,” Brown added. “That experience changed my life and made me want to go to the Olympics (and compete) even more than ever before.”
Even as the youngest member of the six-member U.S. Judo Team (along with Kayla Harrison, Marti Malloy, Angelica Delgado, Travis Stevens and Delpopolo), Brown is well decorated, finding success in a sport he cared little for when he first started. There were too many accomplishments for him to even remember.
“I’ve made two Junior World Teams, two Senior World Teams, three Pan American Teams,” he said. “I am a five-time senior national medalist, eight-time World Cup medalist, Silver medalist at the (2016) Pan American Championships, Gold medalist at the Junior Pan Am Championships, [and a three-time NCAA national champion and captain at San Jose State among others].”
Coach Yone, who was obviously one of Brown’s biggest inspirations and one who believed in him passed away in October of 2014. But another man, his dad, is Brown’s biggest inspiration who changed his life forever.
“I talk to my father on the phone every day no matter where I am and he coaches me and talks me through hard times,” Brown said. “He stays up until 4 a.m. to watch me when I am competing overseas. He has never missed one of my matches and is willing to support me in every way possible.
“When I was younger, I wanted to be just like my father, and nothing has changed. He is the biggest reason that I have gotten this far in judo. When I am tired during training, I think of him and what he would do in that situation and it gets me through it. He is the definition of hard work.”
Brown is currently in the final stages of training and working hard up in Boston but still occasionally returns to Piscataway any chance he gets.
And of course, just like every athlete who makes the trip to Brazil, Brown wants to return home with a medal.
“I feel the best I’ve ever felt,” said Brown who is officially ranked as the No. 27 judoka in his weight class in the world and No. 1 in the U.S.A. “I just want to push myself to be the best possible version of myself (at the Olympics) I think with that mentality, the results will come.”
He also can’t wait to represent his country, his state, and his hometown of Piscataway in South America. And the residents of the town can’t wait to cheer him on.
“It means the world to me to be able to represent my country at the highest level possible,” Brown said. “I am not longer just competing for myself, there is a bigger purpose.
“I love the town of Piscataway. It always amazes me that such a small town always seems to produce such great athletes. It’s great to know that I have an entire town of family and friends supporting me as I prepare to compete at the highest event on Earth.”
For those who are unaware of what judo is, according to olympic.org, “Judo is derived from Jui-jitsu, the hand-to-hand combat technique of ancient samurai warriors. It involves throwing opponents to the floor and holding them into submission.”
The 2016 Summer Olympics runs from Aug. 5-21 with judo spanning from the 6th-12th.
Check out Colton’s career highlights starting from the very beginning to the present time below.