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Olympic Dreams

 

Editor’s Note: Last year, we were
proud to be represented in the Olympic Trials, and later
in Olympic-related activities, by our own Dedra Phillips.
As she relates below in her story, the road to the
Olympics for many start many years prior to the Games.
The ultimate purpose of Judo, of course, is to help
people achieve their dreams, whatever they may be –
competition, work, family, and the like. Now, as 1996 is
gone and we turn our attention to the future, we shouldn’t
forget those who fought and struggled so hard for so many
years, giving up so much along the way, to realize their
dreams. If nothing else, they are important role models
for many of our youth to never give up chasing their own
dreams.


Where do dreams begin? Some may say
that dreams come from deep within our unconsciousness.
Others would say that Olympic dreams are generated in the
fascination of a child with his or her hero. Even the
athletes themselves will claim that they always knew. To
some degree, I guess the Olympics have always been in the
back of my mind. But I can honestly say, I have no claims
to the idea that I always just knew. Or that I aspired to
be like Lynn Roethke (USA Olympic Silver Medallist 1988
women’s exhibition Judo), Margie Castro(USA Olympic
Bronze Medallist 1988 women’s exhibition Judo) or even
Tamura (Japan Olympic Gold Medallist 1992). For me, Judo
has always been a longing and a love.

In 1992, I had just completed my
Bachelor’s degree. The 1992 Olympics in Barcelona were
very fresh on everyone’s mind. My desire for academic
success kept me juggling judo, work and academia. No
matter how I tried, judo was always pushing its way to
the front of my mind. I daydreamed incessantly of a time
when I could devote myself to a serious judo career. I
admit, I had no idea of what I meant by a serious judo
career. I suppose I wanted to know who those faces were
in USJF News Magazine. Why were they representing the
United States and was there anything different about
their Judo and my Judo? Feeling freed of my academic
responsibilities and inspired by the Olympics, I decided
to explore more thoroughly the world of Judo. I thought
of myself as searching for a cure to this endless
daydreaming.

With the guidance of my instructor, I
found my way to East Bay Judo Institute. I remember
feeling confident in my athletic ability and endurance
until about five minutes into my first class session at
EBJI. For a while I thought they were crazy for training
so hard. What good could possibly come from so much
mental and physical training? My question was answered
when I attended a training camp at the Olympic Training
Center in Colorado Springs. Now mind you, this was not
just any training camp. It was a training camp for the US
Junior Elite Athletes. Again, I felt confident in
my athletic ability and endurance. Only this time my
chest caved in about the time warm-ups had ended. To my
surprise, these junior judo phenomes were now off into
Randori at World Championship pace. I was starting to get
the feeling there was more to this serious judo career
than my daydreaming had let on. So, I became a member of
East Bay Judo Institute. At EBJI I learned that no matter
what happens I can always accomplish a little more and
that success is even more exciting when I have given my
best efforts. Now after four years of constant training I
feel it is safe to say I can keep up with the kids, and
whatever else life has in store.

Under the tutelage of Mr. Matsumoto, I
began to believe that I could be successful at whatever I
endeavored and it showed in my Judo. Over the last four
years, I was fortunate enough to be a member of various
teams representing the United States in international
competition and on my way to the Olympic Trials. The most
memorable competition for me was traveling to Fukuoka,
Japan, for the most prestigious international women’s
competition. Never before had I been in such a large
stadium overflowing with judo enthusiasts. Just above
each competition area there was a thirty foot television
screen for instant replays of the winning techniques. In
my first match, I won by ippon. And there on the screen
was my winning seoinage. Amid the crowd cheers, I dreamed
of never letting go of that indescribable feeling.

The year proceeding the Olympic Trials
I did not place at the Senior Nationals. This situation
left me in sixth place on the US National Roster of elite
athletes in my category. At that time, only the top five
national athletes were allowed to compete at the trials.
The Olympics were now farther away then ever, a nightmare
I had never once considered during the previous four
years. I had only one chance left to earn a spot at the
Olympic Trials, and that was to win the 1995 US Olympic
Festival. The Olympic Festival is an event where again
only the top five national athletes are invited to attend.
In the year proceeding the Olympics the tournament is
used as a preview of the Olympic Trials and a scouting of
the next Olympians. Prior to the 1995 Festival my track
record at the festivals had been improving, but I had
never won the event. All I had was my confidence in my
athletic ability and endurance, neither of which failed
me. After the competition Mr. Matsumoto remarked "You
look very happy". And I suppose since I had just
improved my record at the Festivals and secured myself a
spot at the trials, I should at least look happy.

The Olympic Trials were held on January
12, 1996. After defeating my first opponent, I searched
deep within me for all the desire and motivation I could
muster. My next match was against the number one
competitor in my division, who was also heavily favored
to win the spot on the Olympic delegation. We fought
fiercely and I was defeated. With one loss, no matter how
unsatisfying, I could now only dream of being the
alternate. One competitor in my division quit. The others
I could tell had lost their heart. After four years of
hard work, preparation, sweat, and commitment to
achieving I knew it was only right to fight to the end.
At least as the alternate I could still hope and dream of
the Olympics.

As an Olympic alternate, I spent a
couple of weeks training with US Olympic Team in both
Japan and Canada. Often we were side by side with the
Japanese and the Canadian Olympic Teams. The massive
number of randori partners the Japanese had was
incredible. The Canadian’s regiment consisted of tough
conditioning. The US Olympic Team did not falter for a
moment. And there I was. I was practicing with those
faces in the magazines. Somewhere along the way
intertwined with moments of dream like elation and
helplessness, I had a serious judo career. Was that my
dream?

In retrospect the more appropriate
question to ask is where have our dreams taken us? For me,
I spent four fantasy years getting closer to my love,
Judo, and increasing my self confidence. Currently I am
an assistant instructor at East Bay Judo Institute and
for Berkeley Police Athletic League. I hope I can share
with my students a longing for and a love of Judo. Who
knows, maybe they’ll dream of going to the Olympics.

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