Dunbarton girl earns world judo title
Thirteen-year-old Gabrielle Stroska took first at December's International Judo Championship in Harnes, France, winning the first-ever gold medal for the U.S.
Other members of the USA Elite Judo team, from California and New York, earned bronze medals. The team took its best overall finish in the history of the event.
Gabrielle is coached by her father, Robert Stroska, who is head coach of the Granite State Judo Institute in Manchester, the judo club for Manchester's Police Athletic League.
"It was absolutely fantastic," said Robert of his daughter's win. "She made history."
According to Robert, Gabrielle has competed in Poland several times against opponents from Poland, Ukraine, Russia and other eastern European countries, as well as in France and Belgium.
"I have had a chance to bring more American judoka to Poland as well, thus helping them to grow better in judo with different styles of fighting judo opponents," Robert said.
Jim Hrbek, USA Judo's chairman of the Junior Athlete Performance Committee, said Gabrielle has helped to place the Granite State Judo Institute on the world map.
"What a tremendous accomplishment for Gabrielle," said Hrbek, adding that those placing in this tournament are the first juniors who train in the United States to place.
"It's the toughest event in the world for that age group," Robert added.
Gabrielle said the win was hard-earned, but worth the effort.
"I was really happy," she said. "I worked really hard for it, so I was proud."
Standing at the podium with her gold medal, Gabrielle said she was in tears.
"I kept thinking, 'I did it!' " she said.
Gabrielle, who has been practicing judo since she was 3, said she has always wanted to compete in the sport she describes as similar to wrestling, without the kicking and punching of karate.
The win, she said, was exciting for both father and daughter.
"He was very proud, it was pretty much a dream come true for him," said the teen, who also enjoys playing soccer.
Gabrielle said she might be able to compete for a slot in the 2016 Olympics.
Robert said he plans to give Gabrielle to more opportunities in the sport.
"I intend to give my daughter as much judo experience on the international level as possible, especially in western and eastern Europe," he said.