By GREG WHITE
FEW athletes take a 20-year break from their chosen sport then come back stronger than ever.
Cliff Illingworth was a British junior judo champion and proudly fought for England.
Then he gave it all away for almost two decades.
"When I started, I was five," Illingworth said while preparing for another instruction session at Coffs Harbour PCYC.
"Till my 20s I was very keen but things slipped while travelling."
Five years in the Greek Isles proved a distraction from judo before Illingworth arrived in Australia and rediscovered his love for the sport.
Six months ago he reformed the judo club in Coffs Harbour and the results from competition are just starting to flow.
"The last club disbanded 10 years back so we're starting from scratch," he said.
"We have 10 members now and are keen for it too grow."
Aiding the growth spurt is Illingworth's personal success.
Last weekend he claimed four gold trophies from the New South Wales country championships to boost his eventual aim of a spot in the Commonwealth Games team.
"That's a long way off yet," he laughed, "but you must have something to strive for."
Next February he's booked for the state titles at Homebush.
If that goes well, it's a June trip to Perth for the nationals.
After that? "Let's not get too far ahead," Illingworth said.
Illingworth agrees judo doesn't have the same prominence it once had in Australia with other martial arts disciplines gaining higher profile.
"Put that down to a lack of coaches and the size of the country," he said. "Our nearest clubs are Taylors Arm and Lismore, so that means serious travel.
The judo club meets each Sunday from 2.30pm at the PCYC with youngsters particularly welcome.
"We have a Queensland open champion to instruct along with Mr. Dan, a Japanese black belt," he said.
"You can have fun and become fitter than you realise."