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Peninsula judo coach Willy Cahill to be honored with lifetime achievement award

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Willy Cahill took over the family judo academy in 1962, which led to a career that included two stints as the U.S. Paralympic coach. His 2000 team won the gold medal.
  • Willy Cahill took over the family judo academy in 1962, which led to a career that included two stints as the U.S. Paralympic coach. His 2000 team won the gold medal.

Willy Cahill has trained more than 1,200 national and international judo champions, been a coach for several Olympic teams and no doubt will be inducted into several Halls of Fame, but he said all of that was simply a bonus.

"My biggest accomplishment is helping kids on the wrong side of the track make a better way of life," said Cahill, who along with Yosh Uchida will receive a lifetime achievement award at the night of champions awards dinner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City on July 19, an event put on by USA Judo. "It's also been a gift to be able to coach blind athletes in the Paralympic Games."

Cahill, 77, coached two U.S. Paralympic judo teams, including the 2000 team that won the gold medal in Sydney, Australia, marking the first time in U.S. Olympic or Paralympic history a squad won the sport's biggest prize.

"To be able to take seven blind athletes and end up being No. 1 in the world was very gratifying," Cahill said.

Cahill was an assistant coach on the 1984 and 1988 U.S. Olympic teams, but took on an entirely different challenge starting in 1999 when he started training visually impaired and blind athletes at his judo academy in San Bruno.

Born in Honolulu, Cahill moved to South San Francisco when he was 12 and quickly took up a passion for football. He played a year of football at the College of San Mateo before fate intervened. Cahill's dad, John, died in 1962. Shortly thereafter, Cahill's mom, Abbie, asked him to take over his dad's judo academy.

"She insisted, and in those days, you did what you were told," Cahill said. "You didn't argue with your parents."

Cahill, who has lived in Foster City for the last 20 years, knew he needed to refine his judo skills, so he went to Japan for four months and he was humbled daily.

"I didn't learn anything — I just got beat up everyday," Cahill said. "But I learned the real philosophy of judo, the discipline and the difference between training and working out."

Cahill credits his dad for making him an effective coach. Whenever Cahill was in a competition, his dad always offered constructive criticism. It's a method Cahill uses with all of his athletes today.

"If a kid does something wrong, they're already mad at themselves and their parents are mad at them," Cahill said. "They don't need me to be yelling and screaming at them, but you always point out what they did right and what they did wrong while keeping things positive. That's the gift of coaching."