SIOUX CITY — National judo champion.
Those weren’t words that Bishop Heelan High School senior Victor Bird expected to hear last month when he traveled to Lansing, Mich., for the USA Judo Youth National Championships. But he should be used to it by now.
On March 20, the 17-year old Bird won the 100 KG title match against top-ranked Elias Sabin, to claim the national championship, securing Bird a spot at this week’s International Judo Federation Junior and Cadet Pan American Championships, where he will represent Team USA this weekend in Lima, Peru.
This isn’t the first time that Bird has traveled abroad to represent Team USA. Back in 2018, Bird traveled to Ecuador to compete in the Pan American Infantile Championships.
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This weekend’s tournament will be Bird’s first international competition since that trip to Ecuador, and he is thrilled he gets the chance to represent his home town in South America once again.
“I’m excited I get to go this time,” Bird said. “I didn’t expect to win, so it’s really a cool and humbling experience. Most of the guys on the team are from Boston, New York, New Jersey, Chicago, LA, and Florida, I’m like the only kid on the USA team that is from Sioux City, Iowa. It’s kind of cool that I get to represent where I am from and do my thing.”
Bird has been doing judo since he was nine years old, and has a whole host of championships to his name. In 2014, Bird won the Boys’ 9-10 year old heavyweight division title at the USA Judo Junior Olympics. Before that, he won an AAU National Championship, along with winning his division in the Nebraska, South Dakota, and Iowa State Tournaments.
In all, Bird estimates that he has competed at around 20 national tournaments in his life, and walked away with the gold in 14 of them.
According to Bird, the secret to his judo success is simple: Stay calm.
When he is out there on the mat, Bird doesn’t get nervous in big moments, like when he faced the top-ranked Sabin in the national title match. For him, the stakes are what make it enjoyable.
“I kind of always lose those jitters whenever I’m walking out there,” Bird said. “It’s always pretty cool to go up against someone you know is good. The bigger the opponent, the bigger the moment, the more fun it is to me. I don’t really get caught up in those moments too much. He was ranked No. 1, but at the end of the day, we both put our pants on the same way.”
Bird has spent most of his judo career working with Johnny Tureaud of Sioux City’s American Judo and Jujitsu Club, and also spent time learning from Karen Mackey of Sioux City Judo Club.
Ever since Bird first walked into his club at nine years old, Tureaud has seen his potential.
“For (Bird), I think he just never wants to stop learning,” Tureaud said. “He keeps trying to learn more and do more all the time. What was great about him when he first started is that he was trying to do all the advanced techniques right away. For the most part, he could do it. He’s a natural athlete.”
Bird had taken a break from the tournament scene since reaching high school, while training for other sports, including football wrestling, and soccer.
Bird was a wrestling state qualifier for Sioux City East his junior year, and fell just one spot short of a return trip with Heelan this season, after finishing third in the 195-pound bracket at the Class 2A-District 6 meet.
Bird had been balancing wrestling and judo throughout the 2021-2022 season, and after finishing his high school wrestling career in tough fashion, Bird knew that judo could help him bounce back.
“I fell short a little bit, but there was still something kicking inside of me that wanted to get out and do something,” Bird said. “I called up my dad, and went to judo practice Tuesday night that same week and said ‘Let’s try something out, and see what happens.’”
Once he is done competing at the Pan Am games, Bird hopes to continue judo competition at the next level. His hope is to get a college scholarship for club judo, while majoring in construction management. Eventually, Bird wants to get his real estate license and start his own business.
“I’ve got big plans I want to do after high school, and judo is something that is kind of taking me where I want to go,” Bird said.
Judo has taken Bird to a lot of places over the years, and has helped him realize just how much there is to see.
There is a big world out there, and judo has helped Bird see more of it than most 17-year-olds.
“It gives me an experience and gives me a feeling that there is more out there, more to do,” Bird said. “Being able to go to South America twice, to Ecuador and now to Peru, it’s a wild experience for a kid. I feel like everybody should do something, and the lesson I’ve learned is to go out there. There is a lot to do out there.”
Bird will compete at the Pan Am games on Saturday.