In 1959 Rusty was stripped of her first-place judo medal for being a woman. She spent the next fifty years fighting for women’s equality in sports and in life—a battle that took her all the way to the Olympics.
In her uniquely raw, unfiltered, humorous voice, Rusty recounts the tales of her remarkable life and journey from the rough streets of Coney Island, Brooklyn, to the offices of the political, powerful and persuasive, where she established herself as a major force in the world of women’s rights and the sport of judo, securing women’s inclusion on the international stage. Rusty’s memoir is a love story filled with passion and righteousness—for her sport, her family, and her way of life as a judoka.
Often called a pioneer, Rusty was an unsung hero in the fight to give women voice and agency, in life and in sports. Rusty fought like hell, and won.
In her own words, Rusty decided to “be the hammer,” not the nail.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Finishing her book and getting it out into the world was one of three promises I made to my mother before she passed away in 2009. We spent two years compiling all of her memories and stories from her more than fifty-year career in judo—as a competitor, advocate, and eventual Olympic coach. No one fought harder for the cause than Rusty, and this book is fulfilling not only my final promise to her, but it ensures that her legacy will live on for generations to come.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
All of my characters are 100 percent real people: this is a true story. In her over fifty years in the field of judo, my mother enlisted countless people to the cause fighting for women's equality in judo and in sports. See the family tree in the back of the book for an expanded list of the primary characters from her life that made it into the book.
The roar of the crowds was deafening as the United States delegation was approaching the Olympic Stadium in Seoul, South Korea. It was the games of the XXIV Olympiad. We had been lined up standing for several hours, waiting for the signal to enter. The sun smiled on us all day and we were rarin’ to go. There were six hundred in our delegation, the largest in attendance. Word had gone to our United States Olympic Committee (USOC) President, Robert Helmick, that our delegation was too large, and he should cut some of us out of the opening ceremony. “We all march, or none of us march,” he said. I will never forget President Helmick’s response. The South Korean officials buckled immediately. Indeed we all marched! We were so very proud of him. Several days before the event, we received our outfits for the big show. The American women’s opening ceremony outfits consisted of long flowy white skirts, white blouses with little red crossover ties that went around the neck, white shoes and, to top it all off , powder blue acrylic—or some sort of other uncomfortable blend—sweaters with embroidered red flowers and a squiggly white wave going across it. We all looked like adorable Quakers at a wedding party.
This outfit was a clear violation of the Joan Rivers’ Fashion Police.
The US men’s outfits were sharp. They were decked out in navy blue blazers sporting an Olympic insignia on the left breast pocket, like a badge, with red ties, crisp blue and white pin-striped shirts, and white trousers. Each and every one of these guys looked like Wall Street power-houses or corporate executives.
We were to be lined up in an area adjacent to the major area several hours prior to opening ceremonies. The countries were lined up in marching order, but were allowed to mix and mingle in between marching in time. We were on deck for approximately five hours. I spent the time walking around with my camera, which I had received as a perk from the Canon company, talking to and taking photos with many of the US delegation and all the foreign judo players. It was fun, especially with some of the judo teams that had on their national costumes. The Mongolian men’s team was almost bare-assed with their scanty but delightful garb. Their powerful bodies were pretty much exposed, and I wasn’t complaining. They didn’t field a women’s team that year. It could have been interesting.
As I made my way around, I inquired about how their judo women were do¬ing. Specifically, I wanted to know if they had a team at the Olympics and, if not, encourage them to support their women judoka. I knew many of the athletes, coaches, and referees. It was also a kind of reunion. They took photos of me, possibly for their post office wanted poster.
Finally, we were ready to march in. Because we were “U” in the alphabetical lineup, we still had a little time before it was our turn. As we approached the final entrance gate, instead of walking in military style, the athletes and officials made their own course. At least we all were going forward in the same direction.
Our flag bearer led us into the stadium, proudly holding our red, white, and blue colors high. The crowd was huge, with over 30,000 attendees packed in the stadium around us. The roar of the spectators was almost deafening as we wandered in. You could almost feel the breeze from the massive amount of American flags waving for us.
What a reception!
We waved and smiled, and cried, all at the same time. As the American delegation was the largest at the Games and one of the last to enter for the opening ceremonies, true to our values of individuality, we broke formation and drifted through the arena in semi-organized chaos. Each of us seemed to be marching in our own personal parade. Nearly every American in the delegation wandered off in a different direction, exploring their surroundings and interacting with members of other nearby teams. Our formation—large and floating on an adrenaline high through the spotlight—couldn’t be contained.
It was thrilling.
The speeches began. Key buzzwords and phrases kept being flung out of the dignitaries’ opening remarks—phrases such as fair play, equality, perseverance, and justice. There was certainly no equality in the extended endeavor to get women’s judo to this level. It had taken monumental perseverance to get any justice for women in judo thus far. I guess because of all the battles and frustration and hard work it took to get us here, I didn’t have patience for all the public and hypocritical grandstanding and back-patting.
Where were they for the past twenty years?
It occurred to me that just by being there as the Olympic coach for the women’s judo team representing the United States, I had already won the fight—the upcoming roar of the crowd I was anticipating would be my gold medal.
As the festival part of the opening ceremonies were about to begin, I started wondering where we were going to sit, as the stadium was packed to the brim. My question was soon answered, as they marched us out to the buses that would take us back to the Olympic Village, where we could watch the entertainment part of the ceremony on television from our rooms.
In between training, we were invited to several receptions honoring the Olympians. The reception one afternoon would have several celebrities including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. They walked around the large dining room meeting and greeting. When Arnold and Maria came over to our table, he recognized me as a past traveling acquaintance of his. We had a friend in common, Margaret Roach, a writer at the New York Times. Margaret did a very good and impactful story for us on our plight to get women’s judo recognized. She also did a story on Arnold, who then became friends with her, just like Margaret and I had become friends.
Arnold and I first met in 1977 in Israel at the airport as we were both returning to the United States. He was in Israel as a judge for an international beauty pageant; I was there as the coach of the women’s team to the Maccabiah Games. The team stayed after the games concluded, but I was going home, as my husband and young kids were waiting for me. With a three-woman team, we’d won two gold, one bronze, and I walked away with a black eye. Arnold had a crowd around him, even near the critical inspection area. He was popular back then for his world bodybuilding titles.
He noticed my eye, which was very black and blue, and asked me what happened. I explained I was in Israel for an international judo competition, and while I had been working on grip fighting, where you grasp the judogi in a good place to get your best advantage for a throw, one of my teammates accidentally missed the gi and clocked me square in the eye. Arnold was fascinated. I let him know that his country had some of the best women judo players in the world at the time, and that they consistently earned top medals in international competitions. I also let him know about our mutual friend Margaret. We bonded pretty well.
As we boarded our flight, first to London, then to NYC, we separated—he was seated in first class and I was in coach. When we were in Heathrow Airport in London, awaiting our flight to the States, he invited me for tea and crumpets in the cafe. We chatted about sports, and I gave him some friendly advice.
“You have a great upper body,” I said, “but you need more work on your legs.”
“Do you think so?” he asked.
Actually, he was winding down his body-building career, so in all fairness, he wasn’t working out as he had in the past. I was just trying to be helpful.
When we arrived in NY, Ryohei was there waiting for me. Arnold and I walked down to the pickup area together, and my dear husband did a double take, but being his calm self said only, “Isn’t that the weightlifting guy?” Then he noticed my colorful eye.
Eleven years had passed, but Arnold still recalled our first meeting. I think he will remember his judo friend, Rusty.
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