Saturday, October 20, 2007

Beauties and the Beast


U.S. Open Day Zero - Was it Andy Warhol who said that everyone is famous to fifteen people? I think our family is kind of like that. Most people in judo know who we are, which makes us famous to a few thousand people in America, maybe.

My oldest daughter is a sports writer who says it is only her professionalism that keeps her from beginning an article one day with the lead,

“Some judo websites claim that judo is the second-most popular sport on the planet; a claim this reporter personally considers pure bull-shit.”

Seriously, I love judo but there are not more people playing judo than there are in soccer, swimming and track. Regardless, I thought for those fifteen people or more, it might be interesting to write a brief summary of the U.S. Open. For those of you who wanted to be a fly on the wall in the family room, your wish is granted.

For those of you who hate it when I write about my family and email to tell me so… get a clue. This isn’t a class assignment. If you hate it, don’t read it. Do something else in your spare time. Learn to knit. You won’t be aggravated by my opinions, plus you will have warm sweaters.

How I ended up in Atlanta, Georgia after swearing I was never going to go
I told Ronda I was not going to Atlanta because I am getting old and I need to start paying off all of my bills, maxing out my 401 k and doing all of the other things you do when you plan for retirement. This plan of fiscal responsibility does not include dropping a grand and flying across the country every other week.

Parents- Have you ever had a discussion with your children when they completely agreed with you and then the next day or the next week were saying “Yes, but….”

Ronda and I had discussed the fact that Maria was getting the Emerging Journalist of the Year award and I had to make the choice between going to Washington or Atlanta, and since this was a huge honor, I was going to the National Hispanic Journalist Association awards.

TWO DAYS after I get back, Ronda calls and says,
“Mom! What are you doing Wednesday? Wouldn’t you like to come watch me at the U.S. Open?”

I explained we had already discussed this, I needed to give a lecture at Pepperdine University on Wednesday night and there was no way I could blow it off and go to Georgia.

On Wednesday (this being two days before she is scheduled to compete), Ronda calls me from the airport and says,
“Mom, are you sure you can’t come and watch me fight? Don’t you have like a bazillion frequent flyer miles from all that work you do?”

There are a million reasons for me not to go, but I get to thinking back when I was 19 years old. I wasn’t on the best terms with my father, who had never once seen me compete, but I called him up and said,

“Dad, the senior nationals are in Chicago this year. I really think I am going to win. You might want to come.”

My father answered,
“I have no interest in judo. What on earth makes you think I would want to drive 300 miles to watch a tournament?”

I hung up and we did not speak again for years. I did win the senior nationals, and, a few months later, won the U.S. Open for the first time. Thirty years later, I still resent the fact that he didn't come watch me win.

This is insane, right? I have no plane ticket, no hotel room, need to leave in the next 24 hours, fly across country and be home 36 hours later. Oh, and by the way, I want the ticket to be free! So… I check two airlines on which I have enough miles but no flights are available. The third airline - bingo! There is an LAX-Atlanta non-stop flight, the plane has exactly ONE seat available. What great luck, finding the one seat on a sold-out non-stop flight!

Sitting on the plane between two elderly gentlemen going to their 50th college reunion, I mentioned my reason for going to Atlanta. One of them nodded sagely and said,
“You made the right decision. You never know how life will change. Our friend was supposed to go with us. In fact, he had booked the seat in the middle, but he passed away two days ago!

Did I mention that Ronda had lost her phone in the Boston airport? So, I had no way of calling her.

Every elite athlete is an experiment of one. They are the outliers on the distribution of humanity.

That’s another quote I don’t remember the origin. I believe it is profoundly true. Ronda has never been a person who likes surprises. I called Jimmy Pedro, Sr. (who had not lost his phone) and asked him to tell Ronda that I was coming. The last thing I wanted to happen was that she would see me on Friday morning, get distracted and lose.

Running into Jimmy on Thursday night, I knew that Ronda was a good shot to win the next day, even better than usual. Jimmy, whose nickname is Grumpy, was in an uncharacteristically good mood, which I interpreted as him thinking that he had prepared all of the athletes as best he could. My prediction for the next day – Ronda and Kayla winning gold medals. I was so sure of it, I had him pose for a picture with them after he gave them his pre-tournament talk.

Since people very seldom tell me “No”, (And, if they do, I ignore them), I was able to eavesdrop on Jimmy’s pre-tournament pep talks with Kayla and Ronda. Whenever I can, I try to learn from watching and listening to great coaches. I had always thought he was a great coach and this confirmed it.

To Kayla, who needed more encouragement, he told her how she had trained the best and hardest she could, she had made the sacrifice to come to Boston, she had chosen to do judo and give it her best and done everything she needed to do to win.
Then he turned to Ronda, who was maybe a little too confident, and told her,
“No one is going to lay down for you just because you are Ronda Rousey. You are going to have to fight and earn every win. You should win this tournament, but there are no guarantees. You need to make it happen.”

The key point here is that Jimmy did not have a one-size-fits-all strategy. He gave each athlete what she needed. One needed to be made more confident and one needed to be less so and after he finished talking to them, I saw it in their eyes. Both of them were ready to win.

I just got home, it is nearly 1 a.m. and I have two judo practices tomorrow, one at Hayastan and one at the West Coast Judo Training Center, so I will post about the tournament tomorrow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mars,reading this part made me very happy.Because I'm a mother of three,I know how hard can be to please everyone.From reading Ronda's book,I know it ment alot to her that you went to see her.Making you(and her late father) proud,has always been one of her top priorities.But,I can say (from following you for years)this .It's not just Ronda,all your kids are amazing.Because they have an amazing mother.