Representing the U.S. in the Olympics is something that Westfield resident Nick Delpopolo, 22, has been dreaming about since his father enrolled him in Judo in Cranford at the age of five.
Ranked No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 16 in the world, Delpopolo trains four hours a day on the "tatami" or mat and another two either in the gym or on the road running.
A May 12th bout in Miami will determine whether or not Delpoplo is headed to London this summer.
"I knew that one day I would have the opportunity; it would just be a matter of if I would sacrifice enough and be willing to take it," Delpopolo said. "It would literally be a dream come true if I can make the Olympic team this summer."
The Judo champion, who has traveled all over the world to compete in order to qualify for the Olympic Games, was born in Montenegro, where he spent most of his first two years in a small orphanage. When he was 21-months old, Nicholas was adopted by Cranford High School teacher Joyce Delpopolo and her husband Dominic.
Delpopolo explained that a handful of Americans have medaled in the sport of Judo at the Olympics but none has ever taken home the gold.
"As a matter the fact, two coaches with whom I have worked with extensively, Jason Morris (silver at the '92 Barcelona games) and Jimmy Pedro (bronze at the '96 Atlanta and '04 Athens games) are among the few," he said. "The wild part of this is no American, let alone North American, has ever won gold in the sport of Judo. I look to be the first."
Delpopolo credits the sport with giving him "strength, speed and flexibility, discipline, integrity and character."
"To change a quote from Vince Lombardi, 'There should only be three things in life: faith, family and Judo,'" Delpopolo said. "The sport defines me as much as I define it. It is my passion and something I will practice, teach and give back to for the rest of my life."
Delpopolo's advice to anyone considering taking up the sport is to keep in mind that it is "very diverse and dynamic." Because it originated in Japan, Judo embodies many different terminologies, techniques and forms of etiquette that can frustrate beginners. But, Delpopolo said, if a novice can stick with it, he or she will discover how worthwhile the sport can be.
Because training and competing has taken up so much of Delpopolo's time, he plans to go back to school for two years following the Olympic Games.
"I would also like to try and get a job wherever; it wouldn't matter to me," he said. "These two things would be a good change of pace from the 'always train"'life I live now. Don't get me wrong, I would still practice, train and compete Judo but not as intense or as much as I am now. But in 2014 I would start preparing for the 2016 Games again."
Delpopolo said that the cost of competing in pursuit of bringing home the gold medal is nearly $50,000 annually.
"Judo is a demanding sport economically for me as there are dozens of international trips a year I must go to to qualify for the Olympics," he said. "It has left me nearly broke. If anyone would like to donate to my cause or just check out my full story, photos, videos, et cetera, you can go to www.nickdelpopolo.com . Any and all donations are greatly appreciated."