(Reuters) - Ashley McKenzie grins broadly as he tells how a fight over a Pokemon card turned him from a problematic youngster in trouble with the law to one of Britain’s best hopes for a judo medal at the London Olympics.
Thrown out of school, his life was changed when he was 11 by a tussle on a street near his home in west London which broke out when another boy tried to make off with his prized Pokemon charizard card.
"This charizard was the best card. It was my life back then," he recalled at the British judo team’s training base in Dartford to the east of London.
"I’ve gone to grab his shirt and next thing I knew I was over his shoulder. I was a scrapper back in the day so I knew this wasn’t right.
"I went for him again and as I’ve gone for him he’s thrown me again. I was thinking ‘No way, what’s going on? How’s he throwing me? He’s hurting me’."
Baffled, he went home and looked on the internet where he discovered he had been overcome by a judo move. Keen to learn more, he went along to a local club and found his erstwhile attacker there, along with his Pokemon card.
"We spoke, we’re friends, I started judo. Obviously I got my Pokemon card back," he added with a laugh.
McKenzie, now a charming 23-year-old, is very open about his past troubles, and proud of how he turned his life around.
He was regularly excluded from school and spent time in a young offenders institution.
But, having got into judo, his talent was spotted and success in junior competitions followed.