AnnMaria De Mars
I was a short, fat kid with thick glasses. When I was 12, my mother said, “You cannot spend your life in your room eating and reading books. Go join something, “ and she dropped me off at the Alton YMCA. Well, short girls don’t run fast and fat girls don’t want to wear swimsuits. In those pre-Title IX days, the only sports that were accepting girls were track, swimming and judo.
Having three brothers, I was pretty used to fighting, so judo was a natural. I won my first junior nationals at age 16, by which time I was already a freshman in college. At 19, I graduated from college, won the U.S. Open, collegiate nationals and senior national championships. Since there was no world competition for women at the time, I went to graduate school and retired from competition. I graduated with my MBA the same year as the first women’s world championships. I was only 21 and thought I would have another run at competition. Instead, I missed the next world trials having my first daughter, Maria Burns, who is now gaining quite a reputation as a sports writer, proving wrong all of those people who told me she would be damaged for life if I trained during pregnancy. To regain my spot as number one, I had to go to the 1982 U.S. Open and win, six weeks after giving birth – so I did. I also won the U.S. Nationals a couple more times, the Austrian Open, Pacific Rim Championships (in Hongkong), Panamerican Games and then became the first American ever to win the world championships, in Vienna, Austria in 1984. I almost didn’t make it to the world championships, as I had knee surgery three weeks before the world trials. Against my doctor’s advice, I fought anyway, and won by all ippons (the judo equivalent of a knock-out).
After the world championships, I went home, married the love of my life and had two more daughters, Jennifer and Ronda, in quick succession. With three babies, the last born in 1987, the 1988 Olympics were out of the question, so I enrolled in graduate school again, and earned another masters degree and a Ph.D. That last one, Ronda, was the youngest member of the 2004 Olympic judo team and the 2004 Junior World Champion, making us the only mother-daughter world champions in history.In 1995, when my husband passed away, I began to do more consulting work to pay the bills, in addition to working as a professor. After I remarried and had a new baby, I took the plunge to starting my own consulting company, with two partners on the Spirit Lake Reservation. In twenty-two months, we went from $50,000 in contracts to over $1,000,000. Somewhere along the line, I found time to be an instructor at Venice Judo Club in Culver City, president of California Judo, Inc. judo instructor at UCLA and vice-president of the United States Judo Association.
When I read it all added up on paper like this, it sounds pretty amazing. At the time, though, it was just setting a goal and then working to get to it. I think most people have a shot at doing something great, whether it is winning a world championships, or earning a Ph.D. or founding a million dollar business. Some people blow their opportunity in a big way, by getting drunk, crashing their car and ending up with brain damage. Most people, though, blow their opportunities in a small way added up a thousand times. They don’t go to practice. They go to a party instead of staying up late and writing that last proposal. I think there are only two secrets to success, in the end. Work hard. Never, never, never give up.
The most common question I get: "Weren't you ever scared in any of this?" and the answer is "What, are you kidding me? There were lots of times when I was terrified. The trick isn't not to be scared, it is to keep going ahead anyway."
The most common comment I get is when people see me for the first time: "Gee, I always thought you were bigger."