Throwing Opponents and Smashing Barriers

Kalispell teen Stella Davison sets sights on 2020 Olympics for judo, with potential to earn a spot on the national team next month

By Molly Priddy
Stella Davison, pictured at Straight Blast Gym on Feb. 15, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

This story is from a series in this week’s Beacon called “Undaunted.” The profiles focus on women and girl athletes who are breaking records, stereotypes and barriers from wrestling and judo mats to mountain trails and terrain parks.

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On an average Tuesday morning, Flathead High School sophomore Stella Davison wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to do her homework before heading to weightlifting practice.

She then heads to school, where she maintains a perfect 4.0 GPA, and afterward goes to Straight Blast Gym, which her parents Travis and Kisa Davison started in Kalispell, Whitefish, Bigfork, and Missoula. After teaching jiu-jitsu and other skills to a group of 16 students, ages 3 and 4, she has up to four hours of judo and jiu-jitsu practice.

It takes time and determination to become deadly.

Stella Davison, pictured at Straight Blast Gym on Feb. 15, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

At 5’3” and competing at 114.4 pounds, Davison is a glimpse of the future of judo and jiu-jitsu, typically male-dominated arenas in which women are a growing and powerful force.

Davison is quick and strong, both important in a sport where balance and center of gravity help throw opponents to the ground. She can squat 225 pounds, deadlift 285, and she benches 125.

Davison’s goals extend beyond merely being able to flip opponents with ease — with a gold-medal win at the 2018 Washington State Judo Championships on Feb. 17 warming her up, Stella “from Hella” Davison’s eyes are on the 2018 USA Judo Youth National Championships in early March.

“Nationals is huge,” Davison said. “If I win nationals — no, we’re going to go with when — when I win nationals, that would put me on the USA judo team.”

A spot on Team USA would give her a shot at competing in global tournaments representing the USA, while also laying the groundwork for what she hopes is an Olympic debut in 2020.

SBG instructor and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Leah Taylor said Davison is in her best shape as she heads into this tournament season, pushing the limits of how much muscle she can build on her frame.

Stella Davison practices her handstands at Straight Blast Gym on Feb. 15, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

It’s all about hard work, Davison said, but it didn’t hurt that she was raised in a family where jiu-jitsu is as common as swimming lessons. Still, Davison knows that even if she’s the best in her sport, she needs to be well-rounded in order to succeed in life. She wants to go to college at San Jose State, which has a powerhouse judo program.

“Judo and jiu-jitsu are just a big part of my life, and I think it will always be that way, but in order to accomplish my goals I need to be more well-rounded,” Davison said. “I do have straight As — that’s a priority in my life because to go San Jose State, I need scholarships. I can’t do this on my own. You can’t just be strong; you can’t just be good at something; you have to have some knowledge about other areas of life as well.”

Taylor, who holds the title of medium-heavy black belt masters women’s world champion, said she’s seen growing ranks of women taking martial arts classes at Straight Blast Gym, especially after the popular self-defense courses. Strength and conditioning, cardio, and yoga classes are also popular.

“It’s become more of a community,” Taylor said. “We have women who are all different ages. The benefits go far beyond what you can gain from competition.”

Having women in teaching roles as well as in the classes helps build confidence in competitors like Davison, Taylor said, because it shows them they belong in the gym right alongside the boys.

That’s never really been a problem for Davison, though, who grew up with three brothers, including her twin, Ricky. She trains with whomever is available, though she’d really like to find a training partner her size and weight.

Though she began in jiu-jitsu and has also developed a love for powerlifting, in which she plans to compete this summer, Davison said starting judo four years ago showed her a new avenue for her passion.

Plus, it’s fun to throw people around.

“I didn’t really have access to it, but when it started four years ago, I started immediately,” she said, then added while laughing: “I love throwing people on their faces.”

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