Leeds golfer Rigby is top of the world in akido

Leeds Central's Sarah Fletcher,  Laura Beardsmore, Paul Carr and Andrew Rigby members of the GB world champion Akido team.
Leeds Central's Sarah Fletcher, Laura Beardsmore, Paul Carr and Andrew Rigby members of the GB world champion Akido team.
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Leeds does pretty well even as things stand when it comes to the Olympic Games.

If it’s not golden girl Nicola Adams conquering the boxing ring it’s one of the Brownlee brothers dominating in the triathlon sphere.

The city would do better still with the introduction of akido in which golf professional turned martial arts combatant Andrew Rigby and company are championing the cause.

Rigby, 31, is best known as assistant professional at Leeds Golf Club alongside head professional Adrian Newboult yet there is more sporting talent to the 31-year-old then meets the eye.

The former Harrogate Grammar School pupil and five others from Leeds have recently helped Team GB secure gold at this year’s akido World Championships held on the Gold Coast of Australia.

Laura Beardsmore, Sarah Fletcher, Natuley Smalle, Paul Carr and Jermaine Liburd all represent the Leeds Central team and all five joined Rigby on the plane to Australia to help Great Britain win gold in a sport similar to judo but in which the emphasis on the throwing techniques differ. The golfer took up the sport as a child as a form of self-defence and, over two decades on, life in Leeds and akido has proved to be a winning combination.

Rigby told the YEP: “I started playing golf when I was younger down in Cornwall where we lived, just going out with my dad hitting balls and the usual sort of thing that most kids do.

“Then, when we moved up to Harrogate when I was six, I got into the golf and found somewhere to have lessons at Leeds Golf Centre.

“But I was one of those unfortunate outsiders who was short, scrawny and from somewhere else so I used to get bullied with my Cornish accent.

“It got to the point where my parents turned round and said you need something to give you a bit of confidence so that if anything does go wrong you know how to handle yourself.

“The closest thing to me was the local akido club in Harrogate which was just around the corner so I went, sat down, watched them, enjoyed and decided to get involved.

“One thing led to another as I started competing as a junior and then a little bit as an adult.

“Then my instructor, Dave Bryant, came back from Japan in 2001 and said the World Championships two years later were in Leeds and you’re going. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter so I asked where else do I need to train as I wanted to get better and that’s how things started from there.

“It’s just snowballed as far as the akido is concerned.

“I’ve just been fortunate to train with some really, really good guys and way back then we were already a strong team and I still look up to those people.

“Now I have got a bit older I am starting to become one of the more senior members of the team and the young guys are now looking up to us but not many of them look up to me because they are taller than me.

“I think this area has just been so successful because of the quality of the instructors.

“They have been there, seen it and done it and they are passing on their knowledge to us and we’re all passionate about it. It’s just a hobby that quite a few of us seem to be quite good at!”

The Leeds team train at various venues around Leeds including at Kirkstall, Menston and Bradford with Rigby ditching the golf clubs for martial arts gear when his daily shift at Leeds GC is finished. It is, though, his role at the Elmete Lane club that is his bread and butter and the former Western Primary School has not yet abandoned hope of making the grade on the Euro Pro Tour.

“You’ve got to realise at some point that you’ve got to think about what makes you money and what pays your bills,” he said. “Unfortunately, akido doesn’t pay my bills and it’s a hobby, or an obsession, one of the two.

“Golf allows me to go to Australia and allows me to train but predominantly this is what I see myself doing – I see myself as a professional golfer.

“I’m not sure where I am going to be in five years’ time and I haven’t quite given up on the dream of playing as a professional.

“When I first turned pro I looked to play on the EuroPro Tour which is ‘third division’ but I realised it was very expensive without any sponsors and I was working full time at the time.

“It was simply not going to happen.

“Now I have got a little bit more of an opportunity here to improve the quality of my playing so that maybe I could have another go at it.

“If that all works well then potentially in five years I’m out there on the European Tour making a living and travelling the world which would have a massive impact on my akido.”

At 31, Rigby also admits he is now becoming one of the elder statesmen of the akido group though the Yeadon-based versatile sporting star has his own heir to the throne be it golf or akido in the shape of six-year-old son Dylan.

Not that the former Myerscough College student is putting away his whites just yet with the 2017 World Championships firmly on the agenda and with team-mate David Fielding still going strong in the sport at the age of 50.

That technically gives Rigby at least another 19 years with the Leeds ace dreaming of the sport becoming an Olympic discipline. Bridge and tug of war have applied for Olympic status and akido could eventually follow suit, but Rigby admitted: “If the opportunity arose for any of us to be classed as Olympic athletes you would strive for it and you just have to look at the likes of Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Chris Hoy who have just kept going and going.

“I don’t think it will happen in my competitive lifetime but I’ve got a little boy who is six and it may happen in his competitive lifetime.

“When we train with the national team we train at the same place as the British Judo team.

“They have their things on the wall and you see some of the funding that they get from Sport England.

“If you’re considered a potential medal winner you can get up to £25,000 for a year. Because we are not an Olympic sport, Sport England don’t get behind us in any way.

“It’s similar to karate and judo and taekwondo and two of those are Olympic and one is potentially going to be in the Olympics. You never say never, but as a realist I can’t see it happening for myself.

“I’m just really pleased we have become world champions as we had a ‘beat the pro day’ down at the golf club which raised money for the trip to Australia.

“I was really touched by that and I didn’t know how to say thank you enough to them. Bringing back a medal, let alone a gold medal makes it all seem justified.”