I was 12 years old when I first read a library book about Judo, "My Championship Judo" by Anton Geesink. It began a lifelong fascination with the art. It was a year later, on October 23, 1969 when I found my first dojo, and started learning Judo.
George Hamm was my first instructor. He was a Nidan at the time, with 11 years time in grade - and often joked that he would write the book titled "How to Be A Successful Nidan". At the time, it was extremely difficult for 'gaijin' Judoka to advance in rank under Nanka Yudanshakai.
I made Sankyu by age 16, and had my Ikkyu at the time I finished High School. I entered the Marine Corps, and a year later, in 1975, became the U.S.M.C. Judo Champion for my weight division - which gave me enough points for my Shodan.
Here I am, still training, close to 40 years later, with bad knees, back injuries, a multitude of competition & training injuries, and I wouldn't change at all if I could do it all over again.