Alamin and Fulp Break Barriers in Judo on the Road to Los Angeles

by Nicole Jomantas

Yasmin Alamin after her gold medal win at the 2022 Senior National Championships.

(Colorado Springs, CO) – Yasmin Alamin (Woodbridge, VA / Sport Judo) and Jayda Fulp (Fort Worth, TX / Chandler Judo Academy) have followed different paths, but each of these women have made their mark on Team USA, becoming two of the few black women in recent years to represent Team USA on the world stage.

In a sport where athletes often put on a gi for the first time in elementary school, Yasmin Alamin took the road less traveled, beginning judo classes for the first time at 19 years old.

“My dad did martial arts. He did taekwondo on the West Coast. He wanted all of my brothers to do martial arts and they got to do judo,” Alamin explained. “I begged him for a year and, after about 18 months, I gave up begging and then one day heg asked if I still wanted to do it and I said yes and I started in October of 2016 at 19.”

It was Alamin’s mother who helped sway her father into allowing Alamin to give the sport a try.

“I think in the bottom of his heart he didn’t want to see his daughter get beat up. It’s kind of hard for dads and I’m the only girl, but he got to see a women’s competition,” said Alamin who began taking classes once or twice a week at Dale City Judo before moving to Sport Judo in 2017. “He got to see what it was and my mom was like ‘It’s time. She has to defend herself. She’s competitive and she’s tough.’”

Judo would turn out to be the perfect fit for Alamin.

“I love that judo suits 100% of my personality with being energetic, competitive and aggressive while being firm in upholding an a genuine expectation of being respectful and honorable. I have never been a part of something that keeps the balance between fighting with all your heart against your competitors and being happy to see each other at dinner on the same day,” she said. “That has given me peace as a competitor that being happy and aiming for dominance is possible.”

Homeschooled through high school, Alamin attended Northern Virginia Community College and later went on to attend George Mason University where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and also interned at NASA.

Alamin earned her degree in December of 2022 and was honored as the commencement speaker for the winter graduating class.

During her final two years at George Masin, Alamin balanced training six days a week, often twice a day, with her studies.

The work paid off in the form of a bronze medal at the 2021 USA Judo Senior Nationals and gold the following year.

Alamin made her debut on the IJF circuit in 2022 and went on to win bronze at her second Pan American Open in Santiago in 2023. She followed with a silver at the Lima Pan American Open later that summer to secure her first Team USA position at the Pan American Games.

“Being on the Pan Am Games Team didn’t hit me how big a deal it was until I started seeing all the media posts and I got to the airport and saw all the other sports teams from the U.S.,” Alamin said. “I just was really proud of myself for earning a spot at the last opportunity. I bombed out in Ecuador at the super qualifier so I needed a home run in Peru which was the last chance and I pulled it off. That was a big moment for me.”

The experience of competing against the best athletes in the Americas and living in the Pan Am Games Village with athletes from 41 nations and 39 sports inspired Alamin as she sets her sights on qualification to represent Team USA again.

“I was thinking about my competition most of the time while in Santiago so I barely absorbed what I had done, but, on the last day, I was there watching the team event and a special feeling of gratitude rose up in me of how sensational the opportunity was,” she said. “I smiled to myself and said this will not be the last Games I attend. I want to see all those flags and be a part of all those sports shining again.”

When Alamin returned from the Pan Am Games, she returned not only to training in preparation for the World Tour, but to her job in Washington, D.C. where she works for the Department of Transportation as a General Engineer LNG Team, Engineering and Research at Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

While juggling a successful career as both an engineer and one of the best judoka in the nation, the sport  has brought her skills she never could have imagined on and off the mat in both her career and as she trains and competes around the world.

“Judo has made me tougher and less shy so I have been able to pull off more than I thought. I never would have imagined I would have the courage to move to Japan alone to train and come away with new friends that inspired me enough to continue and learn a new language,” Alamin said. “I also discovered how much I love to travel because of judo. I am always down for a new location which is pretty big for me as an introvert. It has opened the world to me when I used to not even go to school festivals.”

In competing at the Pan American Games, Alamin became the first black woman to make the team in judo since Hana Carmichael (Philadelphia, PA) won bronze at the 2011 Games.

“The world stage in judo is huge and diverse, which has been amazing so internationally I don’t feel unique. Still, when I see the pictures of the U.S. Judo Team, I do see myself as a standout … so I am happy to highlight judo on a professional level as something else girls who look like me can do,” Alamin said. “African-American women have recently made major waves in sports like gymnastics and swimming which previously was not the case. I am very happy to add judo to that list as I grow my story.”

Now a top contender for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles after less than two years on the international circuit, Alamin is looking forward to the United States hosting a Summer Games on home soil for the first time since the 1996 Games were held in Atlanta.

“To have a crowd who knows judo come to the USA and a lot of fans make.the room shake for American judo players is probably what I look forward to the most. And I know how rare it is to have a host nation Olympics in a career – especially an unusual career like mine which I realize is technically pretty short,” Alamin said. “I feel quite special to have that potential opportunity. And my family and friends actually getting to see the electric brilliance of world judo not a million miles away so they can see what I’m always doing when I miss birthdays would make me extremely happy too.”

Jayda Fulp won medals in both the junior and cadet divisions at the 2023 Junior Olympic Championships. (Photo by Carrie Chandler)

At just 16-years-old, Jayda Fulp has been breaking barriers for most of her young career.

Fulp has already competed at just two Cadet World Championships for athletes 17 and under – becoming one of the first U.S. black women to compete at the tournament when she fought at her first Cadet Worlds in the 63 kg division in 2022.

In 2023, Fulp qualified for her first Cadet Pan American-Oceania Championships, narrowly missing the podium with a fifth-place finish and finishing second in the U20 junior event at the Junior Olympic Championships.

This year, she enters the 2024 season ranked No. 1 in the nation in the cadet 63 kg category and is looking to build her experience internationally in a sport she started just six years ago.

After beginning her martial arts career in jujitsu at age nine at the suggestion of her grandfather who also trained in the sport, Fulp tried judo a year later and was hooked.

“My grandpa introduced me to it. He was like ‘let’s go do a couple throws. Let me go show you a couple throws with these guys’ and I was like ‘Ok, sure. Throwing people sounds cool to me,’” Fulp laughed.

By age 14, Fulp had qualified to compete on the international stage for the first time at the Pan American U15 Championships in 2021 where she took a bronze medal in the 58 kg category and first began to dream about representing Team USA at the Olympic Games.

“It was amazing competing against other countries and seeing other cultures and seeing different people’s styles,” Fulp said. “It was my first time competing internationally and I was like ‘Woah. I could do something with this someday.’”

A multi-sport standout, Fulp also has been successful at the national level as a wrestler – winning the Prep National Championships in the 145 lb division last week as a junior competing for Fort Worth Country Day.

Fulp became the first female wrestler in the school’s history, but the road didn’t come easy as the school didn’t have a girl’s program and the administration was initially hesitant to let Fulp wrestle with the boys.

As a seventh-grader, Fulp was a member of the school’s basketball team, but her request to join the wrestling team was denied the following year.

“I really wanted to do wrestling. I did martial arts. I did judo and jujitsu. I thought adding wrestling would be a great opportunity for me to get more matches in,” Fulp said.

After her initial request was denied, Fulp’s mother advocated to the administration and she was allowed to join the team and began competing in the ninth grade.

“They said ‘moms are going to be quite weirded out by girls doing wrestling with the guys’ and my mom was like ‘she’s done judo and jujitsu with boys all her life. She’ll be fine,’” Fulp laughed.

Although Fulp was the only girl on the team, she was quickly accepted by her male competitors who she has developed close friendships with.

“They’re amazing. They’re like brothers to me. We’re all like a family. They treat me the same. Nothing different,” she said.

Fulp was excited to learn apply her judo techniques to a new sport, but said wrestling tournaments were intimidating at first.

“I was really hesitant about going to tournaments, but, if I think of it as judo, it’s perfectly fine when I think of throws and now I really like it,” said Fulp who ended her first high school season with a silver medal at Prep Nationals in 2022 and added a bronze in 2023. “I think the wrestling really helped my bottom game in judo … and I think judo really helped my throws in wrestling and being comfortable in those lockup positions in wrestling.”

Fulp entered the USA Wrestling U16 Nationals for the first time in July of 2023 where she placed fourth in a field of 61 athletes in the 138 pound category.

As a high school junior, Fulp finished her school season with a 26-0 record at 145 pounds and taking her first Prep Nationals title.

“It was really fun. I set some big goals for myself and I really wanted to win it,” Fulp said.

In March, Fulp’s focus will return to judo where she will compete at the USA Judo Youth National Championships in Atlanta, looking for gold and a return to the Junior and Cadet Pan Ams.

“I’ve learned that the big stage doesn’t matter as much as I used to think. At first, I was very scared of it. I doubted myself multiple times, but, when I think about it, giving it your all is all that really matters,” she said. “You have to try what you’ve learned during practice. I think I was scared to do that, like what if I get countered and thrown and embarrass myself, but I think that’s what made it worse for me. But, this year, if I get to compete at those tournaments, just giving it my all and giving it everything I have, even if it means get scored on and I know anything is possible.”

Fulp’s ultimate goal is to compete at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Although the Games are four years away, Fulp believes that each step she has taken will help in her quest to represent Team USA.

“It’s going to be a hard four years of training and eating healthy and being mentally there. Physically, I have to keep expanding and getting my judo better,” she said. “Now it’s a mental game of who can do well at the most tournaments without getting worn out.”

As she continues to rise through the ranks, Fulp knows that young athletes look up to those competing on the international stage and likes to use her social media platforms to help grow the sport.

“I think my social media platform helps a little bit because I’ve expanded my followers, but I’m also communicating with other people,” she said. “It’s not just based on the people in my community – it’s other families or judo people or wrestlers or jujitsu kids and bringing them into judo or taking judo kids and taking them to judo places or wrestling places and not just sticking to one sport.”

Fulp also works with the younger athletes at her club, Chandler Judo Academy, and said she gets inspiration from the next generation of athletes as well.

“There’s so many of the little girls who I admire myself and they’re doing amazing things at such young ages,” Fulp reflected. “When I’m at tournaments, I see them all the time and I’m giving the same respect as if they were my age. There’s some seven year olds who are amazing at what they do and I like to post them sometimes and I think that correlates back and forth.”