1984 World Champion
President, United States Judo Association
By Neil Ohlenkamp
Q: Who had the most influence on you? Who was your role model growing up?
My grandmother, Emelia Maria Castille (Waddell). She was born in Caracas, Venezuela, left her country as a young bride, raised four children, first with her husband and then by herself after his death. I lived with her for a while and she instilled in me a so many lessons in life, I doubt I could list them all; always tell the truth, you can achieve anything, never give up, learn everything you can, love your children no matter what. She used to tell me, “Every talent you have is a gift from God. Try to show him he didn’t make a mistake in giving it to you instead of someone else.”
Q: What inspired you to become an Olympian?
It’s funny, when I was 12 years old and heard there was a national championships, I decided immediately I wanted to win that. When I found out there was a U.S. Open, I wanted to win that and when they started a world championships for women, I came out of retirement because I just had to win that. I love judo. I love doing it. I had a great time at practice almost every day. One big motivating factor is that I wanted to win for my country. I heard a coach in Europe say that it was better to get an American the first round than a bye because you could warm up on the American. I resolved to make him eat those words.
Q: Can you give me an example of courage in Judo?
Dr. Martin Bregman has extraordinary courage. Martin has always stood up for what he believes is right, against anything he perceived as unfair. Because of that, he was never chosen to referee in the Olympics, even though he is an outstanding referee. We’re lucky to have him as chair of the USJA Election Committee and on our Promotion board because he is the most honest person I know, although Jim Pedro, Sr. may give him a run for his money.
Some of the young girls I have seen compete against Ronda have a lot of courage, including some at the Nikkei Games last week. Ronda was older than everyone she fought, in some cases she was heavier, in all cases, she was stronger and more experienced. Every one of those girls came out on the mat, some of them scared to death, and tried to beat her. I think that took a lot of courage and was really admirable.
Q: Can courage be developed or is it an innate trait?
I think it is developed. While some people may be naturally more courageous than others, I think that, sadly, many people learn to be cowardly and give up. They are told that things have always been this way, nothing will ever change, Americans never win in judo, women never get an even break, or whatever the story is, and they are encouraged in many, many ways to give up, to back down.
I have told my children their whole lives just what my grandmother told me, “No one has the right to beat you EVER.” Always do the right thing. Fear no one.
Q: Has there ever been a time when doing the right thing had negative consequences?
In a word – no. It’s funny, my former business partner is now teaching courses on ethics. One of the questions he asks people is, “Are you telling the truth to be honest or to be hurtful?” I have heard people say really hateful things to others, telling someone they are fat, they will never be any good at judo, etc. and defend themselves as “I was just being honest.” In those cases, I think it wasn’t the right thing to begin with.
My partner says, “We try to make it complicated when really it isn’t because we are not courageous and honest enough to face difficult situations. Doing the right thing may be hard but it is not so complicated.”
A while ago, someone wanted a position in the USJA. I knew another person who was interested was more qualified and I asked that person, who accepted. A friend asked me, “Is that worth it? He has a big club. What if they don’t vote for you? Is it really worth throwing away the opportunity for all of the good you can do for the USJA for one person.”
I thought about it and I decided, yes, it was worth it because if I need to be unfair to people to be elected, if I am willing to be unfair to people to be elected, that’s not a good outcome.
Q: How do you find balance between training, work and family?
My children and husband might tell you that I don’t!
I am a master at multi-tasking and making one thing fit two agendas.
Q: What is your source of strength?
My children. My husband died when the girls were young (12, 9 and 8) and I was all they had. I never want to be a person my children would not be proud to point to as their mom.
Q: What is the most important lesson you have learned from your study of judo?
Every loss is temporary. Courage and strength are permanent.
Q: What advice would you give young people?
The best advice I ever read was by Carly Fiorina, president of Hewlett -Packard – “Once you sell your soul, no one can ever buy it back for you.” The second best was by Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
From my grandmother I learned that if even one person in this world loves you without reservation you can face and do anything. When you have children, be that person for them.
From judo, I learned, “Face life without fear. ”