Dot’s Dhami takes to the road to chase Olympic judo dream

By 
Jacob Aguiar, Special to the Reporter
Aug. 7, 2014

Maria Dhami, second from left, is a National Junior Judo Champion who hopes to represent the US on the Olympic Judo team.Maria Dhami, second from left, is a National Junior Judo Champion who hopes to represent the US on the Olympic Judo team.

Maria Dhami, an 18-year-old Dorchester woman who is a four-time National Junior judo champion, wants to represent the United States on its Olympic team. To that end, she has committed herself to competing widely, nationally and internationally; it’s a commitment that comes at a great cost of time and money.

A graduate of Boston Latin Academy who lives in the Polish Triangle, Dhami is the top ranked junior in the 52kg weight class and current Junior champion. She was four years old when her family came to the United States from Albania. Four years later, she was student of judo at the Boston Ultimate Self-Defense Center who as time went by experienced early success at local tournaments but defeats in national competitions.

Those losses fueled her determination to get better.

“When I started I was much stronger than my opponents,” said Dhami. “I think winning is what kept me going when I was younger. I mean who doesn’t like to win tournaments? When I began to compete in national tournaments I started to lose to people and that kept me interested because I had to get better.”

Tournament competition was a big part of her development. “You have to go to a lot of tournaments to gain experience,” she said. “When I first started competing at national tournaments I would get so nervous. My hands would get numb. I would sit there and think about all the things that could go wrong. But now, after having competed in so many, it has become routine.”

Judoka, or Judo fighters, traditionally fight in gis. There is no striking in judo. It is a form a of wrestling in which the combatants attempt to throw one another to the ground, pin one another for 20 seconds, or force a “tap out” by applying a choke hold or elbow lock.
Judo is much more widely practiced in Europe and Japan than in the US; international competition is fierce – and traveling to them expensive. So Dhami has had to adopt a new workload in terms of both training and travel. She has competed in three international tournaments since she began training in New York at the Jason Morris Judo Center. She pays for her airfare and hotels, in part, through an online fundraiser.
“I got money from people I haven’t seen or spoken to in years,” said Dhami. “I’m a graduate of Boston Latin Academy and they helped me out so much. All my old teachers donated money to me. I think in about three months I got close to $5,000.” She has also been supported by her old team, the Boston Judo club.

Dhami has struggled at the international level, placing seventh in her third international tournament in Morocco which is an improvement from the first round elimination she suffered at her first international bout in El Salvador. “The loss in El Salvador was pretty much the worst thing,” she said. “So devastating because I got all this help from people and trained really hard and it was just over.”

Dhami lives in New York now, close to her new judo school. Her coach, Jason Morris, won a silver medal in the 1992 Olympics and has sent two athletes to the Olympic games. “Maria is adjusting to the tougher training”, said Morris,” and that is a big part of improving.”
Wrestling is a big part of judo and an element that Morris is focusing on with Dhami.

“We have been working extensively on her ground game,” said Morris. “The stand-up element is very difficult, so the idea is to get in some wins on the ground while her stand up is improving. Judo fighters are typically weaker on the ground than on their feet so a strong ground game will be a real advantage” he added.

“Right now,” said DFhami, “the goal is improving, working on the details. It is going to be really hard for sure and I am definitely going to need a whole lot of help. But I think I am in the right place. If I just keep training and getting more experience I am bound to get better. It has to work that way.”

Dhami can be seen in action fighting for the Boston Judo Club at youtube.com/watch?v=TR3KXQfgFvQ.