Like all good Canadians, MIT Sloan Fellow Paul Thibodeau was placed on hockey skates at the age of 2. However, by the age of 7, the New Brunswick native was not on his way to becoming the next Wayne Gretzky.
"I was a bad stick handler, and a bad skater--for Canadian standards," he said. Furthermore, as a youngster, Thibodeau was a bit hyperactive, and hockey simply didn't calm him down enough.
His parents told him to choose a different activity, and for the next 20 years, Thibodeau successfully focused his energy into judo, an Olympic sport from Japan whose name means "the gentle way." He earned his black belt at 16 and was the 1999 Canadian University Champion. He was a runner-up for the 2000 Canadian Olympic team but retired in 2003 after blowing out both of his knees.
Thibodeau earned both his M.Sc. and Ph.D. in radiobiology from the UniversitÃ© de Sherbrooke in Quebec in 1997 and 2001, respectively.
In 2001, he moved to Paris to train for the Olympics and conduct his postdoctoral research on the role of free radicals in inflammation. He chose France as a training ground because there's a strong culture of judo and many medium-weight men in France, which provided him sparring partners at his level and weight. On the academic front, he was awarded the 2003 Best Thesis Award in Life Sciences at the UniversitÃ© de Sherbrooke.
"Judo is probably the best way that I learned my perseverance and the strategic skills that I have so often applied while doing scientific research. It is where I have learned to surpass myself from a physical and mental standpoint," he said.
Today, Thibodeau still tries to practice judo twice a week, although most of his time is consumed by the Sloan Fellows Program. He chose Sloan to further his education because of the school's convergence of business and science, two areas he's strongly interested in. Both are in his blood, he said: His mom was a physics teacher, and his dad was a businessman. Thibodeau's ultimate goal is to hold a job that combines life sciences and business.
He's confident that his former international judo career will help him confront future challenges in his business profession. "A judo player who has a real fighting spirit does not give up in the face of challenges," he says.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 1, 2006 (download PDF).