Valerie Gotay is one of three women participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics Judo competitions and perhaps one of the most interesting backgrounds that exemplify the spirit of the Olympics.
At 34, Gotay is a mother of two girls and hails from Temecula, California. What is more miraculous is that she is the real life example of Rocky Balboa. In the movie Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone plays the aged boxer who has been retired and found other successes in life. However, after the death of his wife, the "thing in his gut" pushes him back into the ring to compete against the current champion nearly half his age.
Gotay originally qualified for the 1992 Barcelona games at the young age of 18. In an effort to lose 25 lbs to make her fight weight, she became very ill and had convulsions. She never made it to the mat, returning home and deciding to retire from competitions all together. She went on to pursue a degree in psychology from Sand Diego State, become married and give birth to two girls, Breanna and Isabella.
Gotay returned officially to competitions in 2004, qualifying second for the Olympics that year. She originally had no intentions of competing again but chose to because the trials were close to her home in Sand Diego. While she didn't quality for the team, she did win an invitation to the British Open. Again, not having any intention to compete, she did not take it seriously until according to an interview with her from NBC Olympics, her father inadvertantly challenged her and sparked the comeback. She made it to the finals in those games. In 2007, Gotay competed in the Pan American Championships and was one of the two team captain. She won a silver at these games and was considered the top judoka in her weight class.
In the 2008 Olympic trials, she won by defeating Hannah Martin in a somewhat diputed penalty call and was even booed by some spectators.
Competing and her rising once again to stardom has not come without a price. Gotay was a stay-at-home mom, dividing her day between her training, taking care of the house, and home schooling her two daughter. She believed she could do it all and do it alone. But as time drew nearer to the Olympics, the commitments of the competition demanded more of her time and her ability to travel unhindered. She’s had to leave her daughters with family in California and is undergoing a divorce.
Despite her personal difficulties, or perhaps because they motivate her to do her best, she is a force to be reckoned with in the 2008 Olympics. And just like Rocky, she hopes to have her daughters with her in Bejing to root for their mother and learn the true meaning of a fighting spirit. In her daughters, perhaps Gotay will also inspire them to carry on the family Judo tradition started by her grandfather.