Campus Life

Aggie Judo Champ Shares Journey From The Netherlands To Texas A&M

Math major Paolo Maaskant, who earned his black belt at age 16, secured first place at the 2024 Collegiate National Championships this spring.
By Kailynn Nelson, Texas A&M University College of Arts and Sciences July 1, 2024

Texas A&M applied mathematics major Paolo Maaskant '26 is all smiles after earning National Collegiate Judo Association 2024 Male Judoka of the Year honors earlier this spring.
Texas A&M applied mathematics major Paolo Maaskant ’26 is all smiles after earning National Collegiate Judo Association 2024 Male Judoka of the Year honors earlier this spring.

Chris Jarvis/Texas A&M University College of Arts and Sciences

 

Paolo Maaskant ’26 was only 5 years old when he started judo lessons. At first, it was just a way for him and his older brother, Dario ’24, to burn off extra energy. But it soon turned into a passion that would end up leading him from his home in Rotterdam, Netherlands, to Texas A&M University, where his athletic and academic pursuits intertwined.

Maaskant’s dedication to judo was unmatched as he earned his black belt at age 16 and was invited to compete on the Dutch National Team, based on his placement in ranking tournaments. During high school, his passion for judo collided with a new interest in mathematics. After three years of business economics and mathematics classes, Maaskant found he was drawn to the latter subject and its logical nature — something he says he also loves about judo.

 

“With judo you have to prepare a throw by putting someone in the right positions and get them off-balance,” Maaskant said. “With math, especially with mathematical proofs, you must set the conditions before you can prove something. It’s challenging, if not impossible, to do either without proper preparation.”

Paolo (left) and Dario, celebrating Texas A&M Judo's second-place finish at the 2024 Collegiate National Championships hosted on the Texas A&M campus.
Paolo (left) and Dario, celebrating Texas A&M Judo’s second-place finish at the 2024 Collegiate National Championships hosted on the Texas A&M campus.

Courtesy photo

As the end of high school drew near, Maaskant realized he needed to prioritize his education and future career. Unfortunately, as he and his brother considered college options, it became evident that if they stayed in the Netherlands, continuing to practice judo would be difficult. Balancing their schoolwork with judo was a challenge in high school because they had to drive one to two hours to practice each day, five days a week. College presented additional obstacles, considering that pursuing a demanding degree like mathematics would leave even less time for judo. In addition, all the best universities in the Netherlands were located on the opposite side of the country from where the boys practiced.

Maroon Black Belts

In search of a university that could accommodate their academic and athletic aspirations, Dario searched for opportunities outside of their home country. His search led to one of the best collegiate judo programs in the United States at Texas A&M. Impressed by the prestige of becoming an Aggie, Dario made the first move to College Station to pursue a degree in business management in 2020, with Paolo following two years later.

When he arrived in Aggieland, Paolo knew he wanted to major in applied mathematics with an actuarial emphasis and minor in economics. Discovering the STEM to Stocks Club and the Master of Science in Finance program, which allows him to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in only five years, confirmed that he was in the right place.

“While I really enjoyed business economics classes in high school, I liked math classes even more, and that is why I study math,” Maaskant said. “Now I can combine both my interests, business economics and math, with pursuing a bachelor’s degree in math and a master’s degree in finance.”

At Texas A&M, Maaskant even discovered an aspect of mathematics he had not previously considered. During high school, his mathematics classes focused on the basics of solving math problems. He learned how to apply mathematical concepts, but he never learned why those concepts worked. However, that all changed as he began classes at Texas A&M, where he learned about proofing math. Somewhere in the process of formulating a deductive argument for a mathematical statement to show why the statement works logically, Maaskant found something novel to appreciate about his favorite subject.

Paolo Maaskant (second from left) celebrates his brother Dario's (third from left) graduation along with their parents in May 2024.
Paolo Maaskant celebrates his brother Dario’s graduation along with their parents in May 2024.

Courtesy photo

“I know I chose the right major,” Maaskant said. “Although proving or understanding the deeper meaning of math is hard, it has helped me ‘unlock’ a new way of looking at problems — something I would not have learned in any other major.”

This new way of looking at problems has given Maaskant an advantage as he continues to dominate on the Texas A&M Judo Team, securing first place at the 2024 Collegiate National Championships hosted at Texas A&M earlier this spring and pacing the team to a second-place finish while also securing an invitation to the World University Games. His experience as a black belt also makes him a knowledgeable mentor for new judo club members.

“Winning in front of our home crowd was great,” Maaskant said. “I especially enjoy leading practice with the other black belts, because I can get to know the new people better and guide them in the right direction.”

Aggie Life

Embracing life as an Aggie, Maaskant also joined the Sophomores Leading and Motivating (SLAM) Sophomore Leadership Organization this year and attends as many Midnight Yell Practices as possible. With such a busy schedule, his advice for future international students is to take advantage of everything Texas A&M has to offer but make sure you manage your time well.

“You can do as much as you want in college, such as participating in organizations,” he said, “but at the end of the day, it always comes at a cost of something else.”

Maaskant says his favorite discovery since moving to Texas is Buc-ee’s. When he first visited the iconic gas station a year ago, he thought he was entering a Disney attraction. Now, his room is full of Buc-ee’s merchandise. He even plans on dressing up as the Buc-ee’s beaver for Halloween this year.

“I just need a T-shirt to finish the outfit!”

Media contact: Shana K. Hutchins, shutchins@tamu.edu

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