Port Hope Woman Finds Strength In Judo After A Drunk Driver Crash

Port Hope woman finds strength in judo after a drunk driver crashAfter a drunk driver crash left Port Hope resident Susan Sokol with a brain injury, her doctor advised her to quit her favourite sport — judo.
Not one to give up, Sokol returned to judo after years of recovery and went on to recently win an international title. Sokol, 52, returned from the World Veterans Judo Championship in Fort Lauderdale with a silver medal in her class.

The win came nearly 20 years to the day after the devastating crash in Oshawa caused by a drunk driver, she said. Although she hoped for a gold, the medal was the culmination of hard work and a lot of support.

“Even though it isn’t a gold, it feels like a gold,” she said.

Sokol was born in Port Hope and started judo at the age of three in Oshawa. She was watching her older two brothers and sister practise at a local church and her mother said she kicked-up a fuss to join as well. While the sport became a lifelong passion for Sokol, her siblings no longer practice.

“I am the only one still doing it.”

She kept practising judo through her teens but stopped when she entered college.

Then in 1996, at the age of 32, she was hit by a drunk driver and was left with a brain injury. After years of occupation and physical therapy — relearning basic skills such as tieing her shoes — she has made a lot of progress. She still struggles with concentration and can only work part time.

At first she was told she would never finish her master’s degree but she did complete it and is now a counsellor in a pregnancy help centre.

“I proved them wrong,” she said.

In the late 1990s, Sokol tried to go back to judo but her doctor told her the falls could be dangerous for her injury.

Nine years ago Sokol decided to go back to judo again. Although her doctor was concerned Sokol could hit her head and aggravate her injury, Sokol decided judo was too important.

“I absolutely love the sport,” she said.

She returned to Sensei Charlie Formosa at Formokan Judo Club in Oshawa.

While the risk of falling is there, Sokol found judo aided in her recovery. It helped her with her balance and the sport teaches participants to fall properly — reducing the risk of injury.

Her husband, Steven Sokol, joined judo with her despite having being diagnosed with a brain tumour. He died in 2014 and Sokol said life went on hold for a while.

In the spring, Sokol decided to train hard for the World Veterans Judo Championship. She enlisted the help of friend and Judo Ontario board president Aartje Sheffield.

“People got behind me ... I thought, I am going to do this because I can,” she said.

She bumped up her usual three nights a week of practice to four, then five nights a week including a night at Sheffield’s Stouffville judo facility.

“I was eating, sleeping and breathing judo,” said Sokol.

She has a black belt in judo but she continues to learn from the sport, she said.

“People think the black belt is the ultimate but it’s not,” said Sokol. “You never stop growing.”

Judo teaches self discipline, confidence and it is a chance to push yourself, she said.