Back in the day, my Sensei use to say that it was not a good idea for two members of the same club to date each other. She always said that if two people in a club date then break up one or both of them would stop coming to judo. For the most part I agree with this idea. It’s the same as dating someone in your office. If things go badly it can make working together difficult. Even if you stay together but have a fight at home, it would be hard not to bring it to the office or dojo.
Of course, to every rule there are exceptions! There are many examples but I am going to talk about a few. My former Paralympic coach and his wife met when he was training in France. She was a member of the club where he was training. They started dating and everyone referred to Larry as her crazy American boyfriend. Kathy moved to the US where she was #1 for several years with Larry coaching her. They now have 15-year-old twins. Larry was a really tough coach so Kathy said it wasn’t always easy but they were able to leave judo at the dojo and always seemed to have a great relationship.
The most recent example is two member of my club, Kedge and Alyssa. Kedge and Alyssa were members of the Iowa State University Judo club who had attended the Denver Classic for a few years, so I didn’t really know them but knew who they were because they not only came to the tournament they always (their team) helped us setup the mats after weighting-in for the tournament. Of all their team, those two stood out because Kedge, despite being in his early 20ies always had on what I think of as an old-fashioned hat so the first time I saw him I thought he was the coach, don’t forget, I am visually impaired so I often see things differently than others. Plus, how can you not stand out with a unique name like Kedge. Alyssa stood out because she was that orange belt girl who came in and told me how to lay down judo mats. 🙂
Like I said, at the time I didn’t really know them or that they were dating, but when they graduated, Kedge got a job in Denver so they joined Denver Judo and have been members for about 2 years now. They have made a great addition to our club and we are very happy to have them in our judo family! We noticed right away that Alyssa was a really good teacher (she is actually a music teacher) so when we lost one of our instructors, she took over teaching the beginning class and is dong a wonderful job!
Once they moved out I realized they were a couple and it didn’t take long for people to start asking when they were going to get married. Kedge’s last name is Zawack and Alyssa’s was Gilkey. A while back Heidi was harassing them about getting married and somehow it came up that Kedge wanted a son named Commander Zawack so we were joking about the name and I said they could combine their names and name their kid Commander Gilwack. Everyone liked that name and Alyssa started referring to them as Gilwack 1 and Gilwack 2.
Several months ago, I was lucky enough to be witness to one of the coolest proposals I have ever seen, even though at the time I didn’t realized what was going on. Also, you probably have to be into judo to truly appreciate how cool this proposal was. It was getting toward the end of practice and Alyssa wasn’t really feeling all that well so she wasn’t doing any tachi waza randori (standing sparring) and I announced that the upcoming round was the last round. Kedge and Alyssa randori with each other at least once a practice, despite Kedge being bigger than Alyssa. This time she didn’t feel up to it but Kedge talked her into going light and said he would just take falls for her. No one noticed that when he left the mat, we all assumed to go to the restroom, that he had put a ring inside his judogi. I wasn’t actually watching the round but when I heard the squealing from Alyssa and one of the other women on the mat I quickly looked over and saw that when Alyssa had thrown Kedge he looked up from the floor with ring in hand and asked Alyssa to marry him.
Kedge and Alyssa got married a few months ago and Heidi and I along with many members of Denver Judo and their club from Iowa were fortunate enough to be in attendance. Kedge and Alyssa Gilwack are suck a cool couple and we are so proud to have them at Denver Judo
The last example I will talk about is, you guessed it, Heidi and me. Like Larry and Kathy, and Kedge and Alyssa, Heidi and I met at judo. More specifically, we met in the east side bleachers of the gym above the dojo at the Olympic Training Center during the finals at the US Open. I was looking for a place to sit during the finals and a mutual friend from the OTC, Dedra Philips, yelled that there was a place near her. When I got to where she was sitting, she introduced me to her friend Heidi. I thought right away that Heidi was very cute but of course assumed she would never be interested in me, but we hit it off right away. I have always been shy around women but because Dedra was there and my Sensei came to sit with us too, I was much more comfortable than I normally would have been.
We talked all through the finals then at the after party I talked her into attending. A guy named Martin from Canada came out to train with my coach, Larry, before the US Open so he and I had been training together and we had Kathy’s car for the tournament. Martin hooked up with several of the Canadian national team and found out about an after after party and wanted to go but he had been drinking so he couldn’t drive. So I talked Heidi and Dedra into going with us so I could spend more time with Heidi. The only reason she agreed to go is because Dedrawas going. A the last-minute, Dedra pulled out so Heidi was stuck with me and Martin and pretty much the entire intoxicated Canadian national team stuffed into the little hatch back of Kathy’s car. Oh and the blind guy (me) had the directions to a place no one in the car had ever been to before.
God only knows what possessed Heidi to get in that car and drive us to that bar, but I am so thankful that she did. She and I danced a little then the club closed early due to some under age violation from the week before, so we drove back to the hotel where most everyone was staying and hung out in the lobby for a while just talking. Over the next few days they had the training camp that followed the US Open so I worked in the morning then drove down with Martin and other teammates for the afternoon session where I saw Heidi. She went to diner with us after the two sessions I attended. Heidi was living in Oregon when we met so we emailed a lot then started talking on the phone quite a bit. I had some hellacious phone bills for the year after we met until she moved to Denver.
I’m not going to bore you with every date we had but I will tell you one of my favorite stores from when we started dating. While she was still living in Oregon, did I mention she lived in Oregon when we met? Ok so anyway, she was out for the weekend and we went to a movie at a theater that was being remodeled, so we had to walk out through the alley. On the way to the car there were some punk kids behind us acting like punk kids and I was thinking, “Great, I’m going to get into a fight in the alley with my girlfriend here, just great!” We got to the car and the kids went past us without incident. We had not said anything about it but just as we were getting into the car she looked at me and said, “That would have been embarrassing,” to which I replied, “what?” She said, “those kids almost had to go home and say they got their ass’ kicked by a chick and a blind guy!” I was already in love with her but at that moment, I knew she was my kind of woman. She moved to Denver in June of 1999, and we were married a year later.
It wasn’t long after Heidi got to Denver that Larry turned Denver Judo over to us. Heidi is not only my wife and best friend, we were each others training partners and coaches pretty much from that point until now. I don’t compete anymore but she does sometimes but we still enjoy training together. We also enjoy coaching together. I don’t know if I am a good coach or not, but I do know that I am a much better coach when we are working together. I love judo and I always have but I love it so much more with Heidi there. We still randori with each other and we still fight tooth and nail to win. Sometimes she does, and sometimes I do. We still coach the kids together but we split the adult practices. On Monday I stay and she takes our son home and on Wednesday she stays. I love our dojo and our students and love being on the mat and even training with them, but I love it so much more when she is there with me.
I feel so fortunate to share the thing I am most passionate about with the woman of my dreams! I have a good friend who always tells me how lucky I am that my wife and I share judo. His wife does not like all the time he spends away because of judo. When I was competing, I never had to explain why I had to spend so much time in the dojo, gym, at the track, etc. She not only understood, she was right there with me. She understood because she had the same dreams I had.
Sharing your passion with the person you are passionate about is a wonderful feeling. Heidi was not a spectator cheering me on from the sidelines, she was either on the mat with me or sitting in the coach’s chair and I was doing the same for her. One of the greatest thrills for me as a coach was sitting in the coach’s chair for her when she won the US Olympic trials, twice, actually, so I guess 2 of the greatest thrills. When I won the Paralympic Games in Sydney, we had been married for about 4 months but she was there and it was her I could hear from the stand cheering for me. We are each others biggest fans and supporters.
So, while I do agree that it can be a bad idea for people in the same judo club to date, and I have seen some examples to confirm this idea, I also know that it can work out and be a wonderful thing. Judo is too important to me, so even if I dated a girl in my class and we broke up, I may have hated to see her there but I would have never stopped going to judo for anyone or any reason. I will admit that now, if something happened to Heidi and I or if god forbid, I loose her, judo will not be the same. Even if I do manage to go, the dojo would not be the same and I would not get the same fulfillment without her there, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
As always, thanks for reading.
Talk to you soon…