I refuse to believe it. It took me a while to accept the sad news. Estela Rodríguez's smile faded, at only 54 years old, when she still had so many things to teach young generations of judokas, and Cubans, in general.
Yes, Estela was a superstar inside and outside the tatami, as an infinite halo of light that we all, here and everywhere, should follow to be better individuals. Life plays tricks on us and strikes us back with an ippon, from I which I, personally, will not recover easily.
And I am not talking about her quality, unusual strength, imposing anatomy, which made her become the first Cuban woman to win a world championship in judo (Belgrade 1989), nor about that drive that led her to become a double Olympic runner-up (Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996); with a prodigal record of titles at a continental and global level... I am talking about that easygoing woman, passionate about sports, about that Cuban woman proud of her medals and trophies at home.
I had the immense privilege of meeting Estela in Alamar. The first time my friend Liliam Marrero and her parents told me that she was living next door, my passion as a sports journalist sparkled and I gave it a try. From then on, I always tried to meet her every time I went to Alamar.
Finding her at home was actually easy. Her voice was as imposing as her figure and grips on the kumis, you can always see her at the portal, or her body exceeded the height of her house fence, which divided her house with that of Lily’s. And they were always making jokes and having a good time as good neighbors.
That and many other things called my attention as a journalist, which resulted in a huge admiration for her.
This is how we talked on several occasions, in her house and in Lily's, conversations that I remember with vivid details and great pleasure. with a deep level of detail and great pleasure. Since the very beginning, she joked and told me to be serious and get ready to interview a true champion. Then she put her hand on my shoulder and I felt the weigh of a building, and I, rookie journalist, I only dared to ask the size of her feet...They looked so big...
From then on, whenever I visited Alamar, I looked for any excuse to visit her and hence shared some minutes with the champion. Her smile, her teachings of life, being a good and friendly person, are traits that I try to replicate in my behavior.
In times when we need more people like Estela, to follow the legacy she left us, it really hurts not having been able to enjoy the smile of that woman from Santiago de Cuba one last time.
Estela Rodríguez earned my respect before we met, since I watched her on the tatamis of Barcelona, prior to that heavyweight arm on my shoulder. These words will not treasure everything, but this is my way to say goodbye to her. I hope she brings lights on the tatamis of Eden, smiling at us among angels.
Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz / CubaSí Translation Staff