Q&A with Daniella Krukower
Jewish + Female = Athlete : Portraits of Strength from Around the World
Questions & Answers*
What are your future goals and how are you training toward them?
I’m training toward the next Olympic games in four years. I came in fifth in 2004. I was injured in semi-finals, and I want another chance. Before that, I have a couple of World Championships, one in two years, and this is the most important. Then, there’s international championships, panoramic, that I’m training for. At the start of the year I was still rehabilitating my elbow. A couple of months ago I competed again, came in third place in World Cup in Prague, seventh in Netherlands. I felt like I was back in the game. Now I’m training pretty hard for the world championships.
Tell us about how you got started with judo in 1980, when you were five.
I started by going to watch my brothers, imitating them in their movements in judo, and got enthusiastic. That’s when my coach said we might as well put her on the mat since she’s doing the same outside the mat. I started very young. I wasn’t supposed to start that young. He didn’t want such a young competitor or student. They started usually at seven or eight. I just imitated my brothers, fighting on my own. And people were watching me, very surprised to see how I did so well without learning, and I really wanted to do it. He got convinced.
You play many other sports, too, so why did you choose to focus on judo?
When I was 13, I decided to quit judo; I didn’t want to train anymore. I decided to try athletics, high jump, basketball, tennis, triathlon, many sports, as many as I could get. Eventually I stuck with high jump and hurdles athletics until I was 19. I left judo for almost six years. Then in the military service in Israel my general or chief saw me, doing course on self-defense. He looked at me and asked what do I want to do with this sport, what do you want to achieve? I answered, “I want to be the best,” and he told me to go back. So I did.
What did you do during your service in the Israeli Defense Forces?
I was a self-defense guide. Taught other people. Did a course to become a guide. I taught soldiers, men and women, how to defend themselves. It was very interesting, actually. You meet different cultures, different people. My best friends are from there. You can really get to know people when you’re under pressure, under other circumstances than being home. Meet all sorts of people.
What motivates you?
The joy I get. I mean, I’m pleased with what I do. I’m living my dream. I’ve always wanted to be the best in what I do, and I’m fortunate, really lucky to be able to do it and live with it. I take a lot of pleasure in what I do. That’s why I do it. It’s hard; it’s not an easy life. You have to put aside a lot of cultural stuff. You can’t really go to parties all the time. You have to have a healthy life. But I think it’s more important that I enjoy what I do even though I live quite far from my parents.
Do you have plans to return to Israel?
I’m not sure where I will end up. Depends on the chances I have here to help with judo or over there or maybe in the States. It’s a bit complicated. I haven’t seen my parents for a year and a half already. One brother is in Spain and one is in the United States. If I can combine trips, maybe I’ll get lucky this year and my parents will come over to Argentina and see where I live.
Do your brothers compete too?
My brothers did when they were smaller. (I’m the youngest.) My older brother was national champion in Argentina for juniors, and my younger brother was second in Israel.
What's your most memorable moment in sports?
Of course it was the time I won the World Championships in Japan. It was an incredible moment, the most beautiful moment in my life. It was like a dream come true. I touched the sky with my hands. It felt like that. I couldn’t believe it.
Judo is not only a sport, it’s a way of life, a philosophy. So complete. You have to be fast, strong, resistant. You have to have the mind like a lion and in the same time you have to be as calm as a Buddhist. So you have everything in it.
What has competition taught you?
You learn a lot. I know that the only way to learn is by losing, actually. The only way to get better is to not be depressed when you lose but to learn from it. And to want to make yourself better. The constant reach for being better, improving yourself. Not only in judo but in life as well.
What are some of the things you study outside of judo?
I learned how to make perfume. I like it very much. I love perfume. Besides that I do muscle therapy. I made a course here. I learned a couple of years, and it’s very interesting. You have the basics of reflexology, chiropractics, massage therapy. I’m about to continue learning with acupuncture.
Any advice for girls just starting out in judo? Do you see yourself as a role model for them?
My advice is always to enjoy what you do. Enjoy the sport. This is the only way to improve yourself. Try not to get too much into politics and bureaucratic stuff. Because I know it’s quite difficult everywhere. Try not only to learn the sport but the philosophy of it.
I’m not sure I see myself as a role model. I know many people do, but I think I’m a simple person who has had a lot of motivation, and the luck to make it.
Any thoughts about your Jewish background or identity that you'd like to share with us? Thoughts on being a Jewish female athlete?
Of course I’ve thought about it. It’s always on my mind. Last week I just lost my David star, my chain. I was really sad. This week I went to buy another one. I try to keep in touch as much as possible with the Jewish community here. Since I’m not in Israel, I feel the need to be in touch with the Jewish community. Sometimes, I receive mail on my website from people who congratulate me from our community. I feel very close to them. I’m half Israeli.
Have you experienced any obstacles as a woman in judo? As a Jewish woman?
It’s always a bit harder for a woman not only in Judo but in almost every sport. We’re trying to gain our place, and it’s not always easy. Today, women have more space than before. But it’s hard. You have to work twice as hard to get the chances men get. When you go to a World Championship or international championship, you always have six men and maybe one or two women going on that trip. And I don’t understand why. There are some countries, maybe Cuba, that take a lot of girls. Maybe it’s easier for them.
What are some of the best adjectives your friends have used to describe you?
Let me ask, I have one right here. [Pause] She says “strong woman” in every sense and sufficient, efficient.
What opportunities have you gained by being an athlete?
I have had the opportunity to compete not only for Israel, but for Argentina, where I was born. And I got a really important opportunity from the International Olympic committee, which gave me a scholarship that was very important in my career and helped me to win the world championships, and I will always be very grateful. It was economic support for different kids and for training in Argentina where the economic situation is hard.
Why did you leave Israel in 1999?
I moved back because the Israeli federation decided to go for another competitor in my category to try to qualify for the Olympic games at that time. I was very offended. I thought at the time that the decision wasn’t professional. I was lucky to have had the chance to return to Argentina. It was a difficult time.
*All interviews were conducted by Jodi Werner Greenwald, the calendar author, for express purposes of the Jewish + Female = Athlete project during 2005.