An Interview with Olympian Nick Delpopolo

Nick Delpopolo - JudoI’ve been lucky enough to have had the pleasure to train Judo (albeit very poorly) with 2012 Olympic Judoka, Nick Delpopolo on several occasions. I’ve always been immensely impressed by his work-ethic, humbleness and willingness to go the extra mile when teaching and I thought he might have some wisdom to share with my loyal readers; so I went out on a limb and asked him if he would be willing to take the time and talk about Judo, fitness and what motivates him to compete…

Luckily, he agreed and not only did we talk about violently throwing people on their heads, but also Starcraft, Game of Thrones and Snake Plissken. That’s right aspiring Jerds, this Olympian is a giant geek!

So let’s see what makes Nick Delpopolo tick, shall we?

The Jerd – “Hey Nick, thanks for sitting down with me today! I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to our readers about yourself. So before we get into me winging questions at you, would you mind telling the readers, who might not be familiar with you, a little bit about yourself?”

Nick Delpopolo – “Well, thanks for having me Jeff. I really appreciate the opportunity! My name is Nick Delpopolo. I’m a 2012 Olympian for the sport of Judo; I’ve been doing Judo for the last 20 years of my life and I am aiming to be the first make gold medalist in that sport for the Unites States.”

The Jerd – “That’s awesome! So 20 years huh?”

Nick Delpopolo – “Yeah, my dad started me when I was really, really young. I did Karate at a place called the Cramford Judo-Karate Center, and I tried Karate at the end of the whole “Karate Kid” era and I just thought it was so stupid [laughs]. I kept getting off the mat and looking over to see these guys throwing each other and rumbling and bumbling and all that stuff and I looked over at my dad and said ‘I think that’s something I would like to try.‘ He agreed, and I got on the mat and I’ve never gotten off since.”

The Jerd – “Didn’t I hear you also wrestled as a youth?”

Nick Delpopolo – “I did! I started Judo first but then a bunch of my family and friends said that they thought Judo was a lot like wrestling and that I should give that a try too. So in either the 2nd or third grade, I am pretty sure I was 8, I took up wrestling and I already had the advantage of doing judo so I got quite good at wrestling at an accelerated rate. I wrestled all the way up to high school; I was two time New Jersey state kids champion and I was ranked #2 in the state in my sophomore year of high school before completely obliterating my right knee… my ACL, MCL and meniscus… so that’s why I stopped wrestling. I could wrestle now if I wanted to, but I couldn’t for like 3 or 4 years after my knee surgery. That’s why it’s all past tense. I wrestled.”

The Jerd – “Gotcha. So how did you make the transition from doing Judo recreationally to the professional athlete path?”

Nick Delpopolo – “That’s a good question… I liked Judo a lot when I was young, and I was already a pretty good youth player. I took it seriously, went to class 6 times a week… I think the best way to answer this is that I was always around the Olympic movement as a kid. My parents watched the Olympics, my dad took me to the Lillehammer Winter Olympics, and my first Judo sensei was a 2 time head Olympic Judo coach so I already had that Olympic idea in my head from when I was really young. Then I went to train with another coach who was a 4 time Olympic athlete in Judo, and a silver medalist. So I think I always had that idea in my head that I wanted to compete in the Olympics; then I got good enough, luckily, to the point where I could do that! It was never really a question of whether I wanted to go to the Olympics or not, I always wanted to go; it was just really getting there and becoming that good.”

The Jerd – “So for someone who is an Olympian, and doing Judo for 20 years,what is it about the sport that keeps you passionate? What keeps the fire burning so you want to get back on the mat every single day and keep practicing?”

Nick Delpopolo – “It’s going to sound corny but the reason I get back on the mat, and train all those long hours, is just to be the best I can be. You know? To be the best athlete I can be, the best Judo player I can be, to be able to look back and say I really gave it my best shot and got the most out of my potential! More than anything though… I think Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, Fencing, Boxing, all the one on one sports… its just you versus another person, then you have to beat another. Its this constant test in tournaments of you having to be better than someone else. To me that’s a great thrill! Not necessarily beating someone, but being better than them because you practiced and trained harder. That’s a great thrill for me.”

Nick Delpopolo - JudoThe Jerd – “So how does someone like you, competing at such a high level, deal with the pressure of that competition? The constant pressure to prove yourself. Do you ever have doubts, do you ever get scared stepping on the mats that you’re going to fail?”

Nick Delpopolo – “I don’t want to say I get scared… I get anxious. Yeah, its not even nervous, it’s definitely more anxious. It gives me that whole ‘fight or flight’ feeling, and how I deal with it is by constantly competing, constantly proving myself, because then it becomes almost second nature to step on the mats. You need to be there, you want to be there, you’ve got to feed yourself with the fight! By constantly fighting… I think that can help anybody to constantly fight; because then it becomes almost second nature. If you pick and choose your fights and fight every other month, you’re not going to get where you want to be quick enough. If you fight every weekend, every other weekend, or something along those lines it’s going to be second nature and it’s almost going to feel welcoming getting on the mat. You’re going to be anxious, to want to do it, and you won’t be able to wait to get out there.

The Jerd – “Alright, so let’s take it away from the competition aspect for a moment. What benefits have you seen in your life from studying Judo for so long and consistently?”

Nick Delpopolo – “Well of course there are the physical benefits – speed, strength, conditioning, agility. Then there is the mental aspect; becoming mentally strong and mentally tough. More importantly though you have things like the life lessons that Judo teaches you like discipline for example. You can’t eat like crap so it teaches you to discipline yourself to maintain a good diet, or to discipline yourself to wake up and go for your morning run, to manage your time better so you can fit all your workouts in between all your outside activities. Then there’s the fact it gives you confidence; the fact you aren’t afraid to fail and that you will push to do whatever you can to succeed, and if you do ‘fail’ that you know you tried your best. So you can be confident in yourself for even trying and for stepping on the mat! I think it also teaches a fair amount of respect, both for yourself and for your opponent, because everyone gets out on the mat, everyone tries. I have to respect myself for trying my best, and giving my best and then I have to respect my opponent’s for doing the same thing. I think in sports, especially Judo because it is a Japanese martial art, the life lessons are more important than physical attributes you gain. Confidence, discipline, respect. I think it makes you mature quicker as a person, and I think that is really important.”

The Jerd – “Okay, that makes sense! So you mentioned having the discipline to not eat like crap and having to fit your workouts in… what sort of diet and fitness regimen do you maintain when you’re not in competition mode? Obviously when you are in the competition grind you are going to be strict about your diet and whatnot, but when you are on off-season so to speak what do you do to maintain a reasonable level of health?”

Nick Delpopolo – “That’s tough to say, because Judo is almost a year round sport. There really is no off season.”

The Jerd – “Okay.”

Nick Delpopolo – “If there is though, for example like a holiday season…. [laughs] …then I just go completely off the grid. I will eat like I am 13 or 14 years old again. Cookies, soda… there’s no water, no nothing. I don’t really drink alcohol so there’s none of that but I substitute it all with every sweet in the book. I’ll go to the movies and eat anything and everything I can fit into my stomach in the 2 hours. But I never get too far away from the physical side of things. I keep running, just to maintain some sort of shape and on weight because you can’t miss too much of that. If I want to go off my diet and splurge I think that’s okay for me, I just don’t miss too many runs or too many lifts; just because once you get off track it becomes hard to get back into it. So I try to at least maintain, maybe not as intense as usual… but short runs, quick lifting sessions.”

Nick Delpopolo - JudoThe Jerd – “Okay then… so if you are always on the mat and always making sure your diet and workouts are on point, how do you maintain balance in your life? Do you make time for hobbies to stay sane while you are training so hard? What do you do to cleanse the mind and leave the competition behind?”

Nick Delpopolo – “My favorite way to get away from Judo, and responsibilities and life in general, to take the stress off is to just play video games. I love me some video games! One of the games I am really fond of actually, is Starcraft II… I love Starcraft. I used to play a lot of World of Warcraft, but that game is really time consuming so I can’t do too much of that anymore. I’m into all the Call of Duty games for my PS3, I love those. The best way though for me to kill time right now though is to watch Game of Thrones. That has to be the best show on TV right now! That is such a great show.”

The Jerd – “Alright, then I have to ask. Favorite character?”

Nick Delpopolo – “Oooohhh… can I have two?”

The Jerd – “Of course you can… you’re an Olympian.” [laughs]

Nick Delpopolo – “I like the Imp, Tyrion, a lot; and this is kind of an odd pick but I really like the Hound.”

The Jerd – “Really?!?”

Nick Delpopolo – “Yeah, I like his character a lot. I think he is an underrated character. I think the actor that plays him is really good, I think the makeup is really cool and I just think he is an interesting character. I like him a lot.”

The Jerd – “Have you read the books?”

Nick Delpopolo – “Only about 3/4 of the way through the first book, but of course… the show is great and all, but of course the book is better. That’s pretty common though. I’m almost done with the book and I have to say that it is definitely more thorough than the show and it is really, really great reading and I’m looking forward to finishing it.”

The Jerd – “Nice! It’s definitely one of my favorite shows on TV right now too. Absolutely love it. So what else do you geek out on? So you’re a video game guy, into Game of Thrones… anything else?”

Nick Delpopolo – “I’m kind of into the whole 80s, early 90s, era of movies. Not necessarily the good ones either. I’m all about the Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis type movies; and I watch all of them even the really bad ones. For instance, when I was traveling two trips ago I watched ‘Over the Top’, the Sylvester Stallone movie where we arm-wrestles. It’s just a terrible movie but I love it.”

The Jerd – [laughs] “That’s one of the greatest movies ever!” [laughs]

Nick Delpopolo – [laughs] “That’s one way of looking at it. I like it, but a lot of people will tell you that movie is so poor. Personally, I think it is awesome. So yeah… 80s movies… oh, and another one! This kind of all comes together here. Ever heard of Snake Plissken?”

The Jerd – “Of course!”

Nick Delpopolo – “There you go. ‘Escape from New York’! ‘Escape from L.A.’ is meh, but ‘Escape from New York’! So good! And then you have the video games… the Metal Gear Solid games with Solid Snake? I love that whole group of things. I am totally into that. I think I’m actually going to be Snake Plissken for Halloween next year. I think that’d be a good costume.”

The Jerd – [laughs] “Nice. I dig it. So what’s next for you in terms of competition? Bringing it back to the athlete side of things…”

Nick Delpopolo – “Well, like I mentioned before this year is pretty stacked for competitions. Trying to do what I suggested and get on the mat a lot so it isn’t nerve-wracking or difficult for me, so I’m competing pretty much every other weekend all summer. I’m actually leaving tomorrow to go to the World Masters Invitational in Tyumen, Russia. What this is, is an invite only event for the top 16 men and women in each weight class so it’s a really big, high level event. It’s probably the third most important tournament under the Olympics and the Worlds in Judo, so it’s a big one. Everyone is good at this event, there are no easy draws… so I am looking forward to that. After I return from there, USA Judo is hosting a Grand Prix in Miami and it is literally 10 minutes away from my house. I can’t ask for more there! It’s home field advantage, so I’m looking forward to that. That’s in the middle of June and then I go back to Russia for almost the whole month of July again for the World University Games and the Moscow Grand Slam. All high level events. Then finally at the end of summer, in August actually, I will be competing in the World Judo Championships in Brazil. That wraps up pretty much my whole summer.”

The Jerd – “So how might people who are reading this, who might be interested in checking out Judo, find a good school? Any tips or advice?”

Nick Delpopolo – “Well, there’s a couple ways to go about finding a good school. One is definitely ask someone you know who does martial arts… ask ‘Hey, do you know of a good Judo school?’ because word of mouth is really the way to go, but if you don’t know anybody that makes it difficult. So then the internet is the way to go. Go to to find sanctioned schools in your area, if there’s not one then you will have to resort to a Google search and look for good reviews.”

The Jerd – “Okay, great! Do you have any final words of encouragement for the readers on how they can maybe help reach their fullest potential?”

Nick Delpopolo – “I think it’s something we touched on before… whether you are an athlete or not, you can’t be afraid to fail. That’s huge. If you’re afraid to fail then you’re not going to get where you want to be more than likely. If you’re not afraid to fail then your chances of succeeding, or getting where you want to be, are greater. You’ve got to approach every workout or practice, or anything you do in life really, without a feeling of fear. Don’t focus on the fear of failing, look forward to succeeding or getting where you want to be. To me that’s the mentality you have to have to succeed. It’s got to be that your looking forward to succeeding. That’s the biggest piece of advice I can really offer anybody, in Judo or any other sport. That lesson applies to all of life, you know? You can’t be afraid to fail; look forward to succeeding.”

Nick Delpopolo - Judo

The Jerd – “I like it… so, how can people support you? i know the road to the Olympics is rough and Judo is not the easiest sport. So what can people do?”

Nick Delpopolo – “To support me, people can go to my website… it has tons of training and video footage, photos and all my stats. It also has my whole life story and how I got into Judo if you want to delve into that a little more. There’s also a donation page with a PayPal link to it where people can donate as they see fit. Any little bit helps and all the money goes directly to my training; whether I am competing in Japan or training in Russia. And of course people can always find me on at my Facebook page and on Twitter if anyone’s interested. I do tweet a lot, and I make sure to and answer people back. I’m really into social media.”

The Jerd – “Well I really appreciate you taking the time Nick…”

Nick Delpopolo – “No Jeff, thanks for having me. This was really a lot of fun; I love doing this type of stuff so it’s no problem.”

The Jerd – “Well travel safe to Russia and throw some people on their heads!”

Nick Delpopolo – “Will do… will do.”

So there you go folks, a little bit of a look into the geeky life and mind of an Olympian! I hope you got some inspiration out of it, or maybe even the desire to give Judo a try (I highly recommend it), and please make sure to visit his site and offer up some support (you can follow the link on the top-right of your screen)! The road to the Olympics is hard, and in my opinion we really don’t do enough to support our athletes as a country, so throw the man a little love from your wallet so he can continue to toss fools on their craniums for America! (cue “Team America: World Police” theme music)

So what do you think? Interested in throwing people around like rag dolls while getting in fantastic shape? Let me know in the comments below if you think Judo is something you might consider trying out (or any other martial art for that matter… check out my advice on finding the right school)! Also, be sure to follow us on Facebook or Twitter and be sure to Sign up for our free newsletter! (No spam, I promise!)

Signed by the Jerd




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  1. […] The Jerd interview with Nick: This is where I first read about Nick’s interest in Game of Thrones and Starcraft. […]

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