In 1959, Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi won a judo competition in New York. Her award was taken away. That’s because she was a woman. She had pretended to be a man to compete. Kanokogi set a goal to help women in judo.
In 1962, Kanokogi moved to Japan to study judo. There, she was invited to train and spar with men. Later that year, Kanokogi returned to the United States. She persuaded judo associations to hold women’s events. She even helped pay for the first women’s judo world championship. That was in 1980. It was held in New York City. The event helped take women’s judo to the Olympics in 1988. Kanokogi coached the Olympic team. Male judo had been an Olympic sport for more than 20 years. There are now seven women’s judo events in the Olympics. That’s thanks to Kanokogi’s perseverance .
Telling Her Story
In August 2009, Rusty Kanokogi received a medal. It was the medal that was taken from her 50 years before. She died later that year. But her story lives on. Her daughter, Jean Kanokogi, published a book. She shares her mom’s story with others. “Rusty’s story is really that of an ordinary person who did extraordinary things,” she told TIME for Kids. She wants the story to motivate others. She hopes to “help people realize they can do anything they want.”
Kanokogi grew up in Brooklyn, New York. That’s where she joined a judo class. Now there’s a street named after her. One of Kanokogi’s judo students made it happen. The street name shows that Kanokogi was “bigger than life,” according to her daughter. But it also shows the deep respect her students had for her.