A Missouri National Guard officer recently earned a pair of medals at the U.S. National Judo Championships at Virginia Beach, Va.
Capt. Amber Jones, who lives in Memphis, Tenn., earned a gold medal in the masters women's under 57 kilograms division and a bronze medal in the Olympic women's under 57 kilograms division. It was her best career performance in the event after competing in it four previous times.
"I've been trying to do well at that tournament for a long time and I've never had anything align," said Jones, who is a civil engineer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade, of Fort Leonard Wood.
Last year, Jones, who has been in the Guard for more than four months, competed through bronchitis and contended with an injury in 2011.
"Finally going in healthy and performing as I did was a really great accomplishment," said Jones, who has four years of prior service in the Marine Corps.
In her first two attempts at the tournament, Jones said she wasn't experienced enough.
"The first couple of times, I was fairly new to judo and then had a break in competition due to military and deployment commitments," she said.
In the 2013 tournament, Jones' lone loss came in her second match against Marti Malloy, who is the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist.
"That was amazing," Jones said of seeing that level of competition. "It was exciting to get to fight somebody of that caliber. I was very nervous going into it."
Jones said she didn't handle the match against top competition the way she would have liked to.
"The match was shorter than I expected because I kind of mentally beat myself up," she said. "I look forward to fighting her again at some higher-level competitions. But overall it was just great — kind of hard to describe."
Ranked No. 7 in the nation in her weight division, Jones was able to bounce back with a victory over the No. 4 ranked competitor, Amelia Fulgentes, in the bronze medal match,
"That was a pretty big highlight," Jones said. "Those are the type of experiences I need to gain in order to be competitive."
Jones said the key to her success in the medal match was months of practice focusing on counter moves.
"I'm a left-handed player and it's kind of rare," Jones said. "The second that she attacked, I was able to counter right away with the technique I've been drilling the past six months. It was perfect."
Because of her tourney success, Jones is applying to be part of the World Class Athlete Program, which is an Army-run program to help advance quality athletes to the Olympic level. It is Jones' goal to get into the top-flight shape she'll need to represent the United States in the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
Page 2 of 2 - Jones said she is ready to go through the complicated and challenging process. Each country is only allowed one competitor in each weight class at the Olympics. She said qualifying begins more than a year before the games and will continue through May 2016.
For now, Jones’ next tournament plans are for July at the Conseil International du Sporte Militaire 35th Military World Judo Championship in Kazakhstan.
A 2000 graduate of Joplin High School, Jones earned a bachelor's of science in cognitive science from the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, Kan. It was there that she discovered judo.
"I participated in karate, softball and different sports when I was growing up, but didn't know judo was a sport until I went to college," she said. "I saw big throws, the excitement and energy with the sport and I knew right away that was a sport for me. From the very first practice, I just loved it."
Jones deployed from 2007-2008 to Iraq with the Marine Aircraft Group 29.
Following her deployment, Jones earned a bachelor's of science in mechanical engineering in 2011 from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.
In her civilian career, Jones works as a fatigue and damage tolerance engineer for FedEx in Memphis, Tenn.
Jones is supported in her military career by her mother, Luetta Sanders, who lives in Joplin, and the rest of her family and friends.