The Will to Win: a True Story

by : Astrid Bidanec

It was supposed to be one of the best training opportunities to prepare me for the upcoming international competition in France. Little did I know this fateful randori (Japanese term for ‘fight’) would cost me not only my knee, but also my pro career as a Judoka. When I received the invitation to the World Randori in Munich I was beside myself with joy. The best fighters from all over the world were participating in this judo training camp immediately following the annual World Masters Championship in Munich, Germany. Needless to say, I had never missed watching the World Masters and was extremely excited about the privilege and honor to learn from the top fighters in my weight division. Only one year prior, I had made it into the “Judo Bundesliga,” which is the national league of Judo in Germany. At the end of my last outrageously successful year in the youth league, I was scouted by several pro teams and finally chose the one that offered me the most fighting opportunities and financial gain. My sponsors provided all my judo gear and clothes. I was paid cash for every fight and even received bonuses for my victories. It was like being in heaven. All I dreamed about was competing at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. My coach believed in me so intensely I could not help developing a clear vision of myself fighting on the German National Team. It was not all about the glory though. My heart and passion were all about judo, because I simply lived and breathed it every single day of the week. It was my life as much as it was a way of life; it gave me drive and determination. These two attributes proved to be very beneficial later on in my life. Back on that fateful day in Munich I was not even afraid to get whooped by the world champions of each weight division. Not because I thought I was invincible or even better than them. The truth is, that I thirsted for knowledge. I could not wait to drink from the cup of wisdom these great fighters were offering me. Any opportunity to learn is an amazing gift that I have never taken lightly. The first couple of ground randoris were challenging, but fun. I experienced an adrenalin rush similar to what I usually felt at competitions. It was obvious to all who watched me fight that my animal instinct took over my otherwise gentle personality once I was on the mat. Suddenly, the kindness left my face and the brutal will to win was prevalent instead. Even though I could not actually see myself when this happened, I always sensed the change taking place. It was comparable to the transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. Most of my opponents were afraid of me before the fight even began because of the expression on my face. Or so I was told. All I know for sure is that I was always determined to win. I expected to win. There was no fear on my part, only a strong urge to succeed and defeat the other person. Since I had to fight bigger people at the training I attended five times a week, I was not too concerned when a woman four times my size challenged me to a randori. Granted, I could not imagine having too much of an impact on her because of her sheer advantage in size. Nevertheless, I was not going to sit on the bench like a coward either. When we first grabbed each others’ gi, I was instantly aware that I would have to try to use her own motion in order to break her balance. My years of fighting experience had taught me that the last thing you should ever do with bigger opponents is to try lifting them off the ground. The next fateful moment has been playing in my mind on repeat ever since. In a nothing but extremely cocky and stupid attempt to win, I made the biggest mistake of my entire judo career: I tried to lift her off the ground while swinging my left leg up against her left thigh (Hane Goshi). Not only was it impossible and ridiculous, but most of all extremely dangerous in light of her clear advantage in size. Irritated by my feeble attempt, she stepped sideways and snapped my knee out of its natural alignment. I will never forget the horrible sound it made followed by the most intense pain I have ever felt in my life. Unable to continue the fight, I crawled back to the bench while trying to catch my breath and hold back my tears. After all the roughness I was used to I felt like a wimp at this particular moment. Needless to say, I was even somewhat ashamed. This Goliath of a woman, however; showed no empathy whatsoever and even implored me to continue the fight. When I tried to get back up to seek revenge, I immediately collapsed. It was clear to me there was no way I would be able to fight again anytime soon. As it turned out, she had snapped all my ligaments along with anything that holds the knee in place and makes it function the way it should. My professional judo career was forever ruined. What happened after that fight is pretty irrelevant. For nothing really mattered to me as much as judo did. All the physical therapy and doctor’s care could not replace one of my most valuable assets: my perfect health. To this day my knee is not fully functional, and never will be again. As far as my shattered dreams of a long and happy pro career are concerned, I learned to cope and make the best out of the situation, no matter how disappointing it may have been. The fighting spirit that helped me excel at judo has served me well in many other areas of my life ever since. Moreover, the discipline and belief system I learned while growing up on the judo mat have helped me become a better person and for that I will forever be grateful.