Glasgow 2014: Marine Sherrington set for judo mat

Chris Sherrington. Picture: Jeff Holmes
Chris Sherrington. Picture: Jeff Holmes
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THERE has been knee surgery, three operations on his shoulders and one on his ankle. There has also been a hernia operation and several dislocated fingers and toes.

But, when you are a Royal Marine Commando, whose colleagues have been embedded in war zones while you trained for Olympic and Commonwealth glory, then everything is put into perspective.

“My knee injury was my worst one,” says Chris Sherrington, a proud member of 45 Comando based in Arbroath as well as a proud member of the 14-member Commonwealth Games judo squad named by Team Scotland this week. “I gouged the back out of my kneecap. I was in Belarus. It was really random. I was braced for an attack and the Japanese guy drove my kneecap up. I locked in and my body didn’t move. The only thing that gave way was my kneecap which was driven up my leg. I heard a big pop. This physio was looking at my leg but she couldn’t speak English and I was looking at her, wondering, ‘do you know what you’re doing?’ She then actually put her hands on my leg to lean on to get up and I went: ‘Woah! What are you doing?’

“The knee’s obviously vital to being a marine and everything else for me. I’m a hands-on guy. I don’t do paperwork. So to be disabled in the leg would just kill me. I’ve got lots of friends who have come back from Afghanistan with missing limbs. The thought of that kills me. Some others don’t come back at all unfortunately. But it won’t stop me doing my job. If the marines call, I’ll come running. The boys that you serve with are the best in the world at what they do and that’s the group you joined. Much like the Judo Scotland group. We’re a tight-knit group of judoka and we back each other.”

His loyalty to the marines remains his priority, his excursions on judo mats around the world are simply another way to serve, another way of raising their profile.

“I am a Royal Marine Commando in the Royal Navy but, eight years ago, someone found out I was really good at scrapping,” he goes on. “It so happens I hadn’t a judo suit on at the time but the marines looked at me and said: ‘you’ve done really well although you’ve only been doing this for a year or so, would you like to go full-time? There’s a chance you could make the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games and do a bit of PR for the navy and the marines.’

“I took that on board. It’s marine mentality. You focus yourself and get the job done, no matter the cost. Here I am, six operations later, receding hairline, dislocated toes and fingers but we’re here and we’ve made it. The marine mentality is vital to me doing what I’ve done.

“At the Olympic Games [in London], I’ll always remember I won my first fight in 24 seconds and I didn’t even know what was going on around me because I was so focused. I’ve bowed and turned to go off the mat and there’s these Royal Marines, leaning over the side, screaming: ‘Royal’. It’s moments like that I’ll never forget; all the pain, all the operations, for that one moment with the boys, hanging over the bar, going ‘good effort’. That makes it all worthwhile.”

Sherrington admits that he has regrets about missing out on active combat with his comrades in Afghanistan. “Part of me is gutted I didn’t go but part of me thinks: ‘I’m not exactly the smallest target’. I’m 6ft 5in and with size 15 feet, I’m a bit of a landmine attractor as well!

“Afghanistan’s finished now for the marines. Everyone’s been brought back now. But I did Iraq.” He was there for six months at the beginning of the conflict and it was due to the horrors of that experience that he is now fighting for his country in a gym rather than the middle east.

“I’ll never forget the day we went over the border from Kuwait. The ground was shaking as the oilfields went up. The whole sky started to cloud over. It is experiences like that you carry with you. There’s a great line from Jarhead, that film with Jake Gyllenhaal: ‘The soldier remembers his rifle. His hands may do many other things but he always remembers his rifle’. That’s the same for me. The experience you have, you always remember. It’s one of the reasons I started doing judo, for stress management. I got put in positions I wasn’t particularly comfortable with, we all did. But my mum and dad always told me to take my frustrations out in a sport. ‘You don’t hurt yourself or anyone around you’, they said. That’s the biggest thing. When you have issues, you have to keep it contained because it’s very easy to hurt someone or say something to your wife or your kids. You really have to look after yourself.

“Everyone clicks off different things. I’ve seen marines much better than me crumble after a couple of deployments. It’s certain things, having to work with kids, and having bad things happen. It’s different for everyone. But for me, when I came back from Iraq, I needed to vent. And look what I’ve accomplished. Bad energy can be turned into good energy. And that’s a great thing for kids to be able to see as well. They might not have got the grades they needed at school or got the right start in life. But you can change that and put it into something. That’s what judo and Judo Scotland have shown people…you can come from anywhere and achieve big.”

It’s the celebration of sport, the verve of life and sense of duty that make Sherrington a poster boy not just for the marines, not just for judo, or even Team Scotland. He took some of the toughest experiences of his life and channeled them into something good. That makes him an ambassador for hope and positivity.