Nadezhda Gavrilenko: Ezio Gamba Stopped the Russian Team Training Because of Me

Sport is amazing, and it attracts amazing people. The best example is Nadezhda Gavrilenko. Mother of two children and music teacher has become an outstanding athlete. She wasn’t afraid to start judo at the age of 47. Nadezhda shows to everybody that belief in yourself can do anything. She has recently won the World Veterans Judo Championships in Abu Dhabi (the UAE).

- Nadezhda, why you decide to try judo?

- It’s my son’s job! He is very active since childhood. I didn’t know how to make him occupied. So, I sent him to the judo school. The judo was very popular that time because of Putin’s support. Moreover, this sport is very spectacular, and has its philosophy. I went with my son to different tournaments. Helped to his teammates – brought meals, looked after. I supported the team, and suddenly found out that it was interesting for me. And there was another reason. After the birth of second child I gained some weight. I didn’t like my physical condition. Of course I didn’t have any practice. I’m a piano teacher in a music school. Many people were surprised by my new hobby.

- Was it hard at first?

- Yes, indeed! Thanks to my coach Evgeny Kulagin. Very nice guy. He agreed to train me, but I imagine his hesitation when he saw adult women about 90 kilo weight.

- And what is your weight now?

- About 65-66 kg. I need to get rid of 3 kilos more to get into the –63 class. That is my weight before the wedding. Thanks to the coach. I wouldn’t win without him. And then came the injuries. I began to think that it was the end.

- There is no judo without injuries. Even young athletes have this problem.

- Exactly! Bones and muscles are not the same they were years ago. The recovering takes more time. I’m lucky to have the right coach. He worked out a special program for me. And thanks to the director of the Olympic Judo Training Centre. He advised me not only going to the gym, but trying to fight too.

- When did you make your mind to participate in the competitions?

- This year I have gone to Tyumen to the first tournament. I was so frightened! I even couldn’t eat and drink – so much worried. Maybe my musical career helped me. I know how to concentrate on the stage. I got used to play piano on public. Tatami is the same stage. And I was very calm and confident during my first fight. I had nothing to lose. I didn’t win, but felt the competing spirit.

- How did your husband take your wish to fight?

 - Alexey used to practice judo himself. He was training under the guidance of the famous coaches – Alexander Miller and Boris Shunkin. And he has friendly terms with Svetlana Gundarenko. He supports me. Art is not as popular in our country as sport. So, I was desperate. My husband helped me to overcome this period of life.

- And what was the reaction of your young rivals? They are like daughters for you!

 - They thought that I was old and experienced fighter. But then they discovered that I’m the beginner. I started to train in a group. It was confusing. My group mates helped me. However, there were other examples. The girls think – common, we should beat her. I was dropped so many times (laughing). I had to fight and train a lot to gain the respect.

- Did you get what you wanted?

- Yes, I’ve learned how to defend at the second training camp. And the girls accepted me. But the most impressing for me was the training of the national team. The guys were preparing to the Euro-2012 in Chelyabinsk. I asked Ezio Gamba to let me watch and he agreed. It was crazy! And once, Ezio Gamba even stopped the training because of me - I made a picture with all judokas. I was very happy!

- What plans do you have next?

- According to my coach, the Olympic cycle takes four years. I will be working all this time, and then we will see. A lot of things depend on health. I wish my son to realize himself in judo. The coaches think he has perspectives. He earns medals one by one. He is talented. Maybe I will try myself as a referee. Anyway, judo became the essence of my life. I want to practice it as long as possible.

Vitaly Vizaulin,
photo by Yuri Zajkov and from the personal archive of Nadezhda Gavrilenko