You probably never heard of Rusty Kanokogi.
But in 1959 — disguised as a man — she won a medal at a judo tournament. When officials realized her gender, she was forced to return it.
She did not take the injustice lying down. Kanokogi headed to Japan to continue training. She became the first woman to join a men’s group, then fought for judo to be included in the Olympics — a reality in 1988.
Not bad for a Jewish girl from Brooklyn, born Rena Glickman.
She overcame many odds to become “The Mother of Women’s Judo.” Now Eve Nadel Catarevas has battled many obstacles to tell Kanakogi’s story, in a children’s book.
After a career as a copywriter, interrupted by years raising her son, it’s the Westporter’s first book.
Catarevas was raised in Greenwich. After Boston College, she worked for Bristol Myers Squibb and Condé Nast.
She knew Westport from visits here with her parents — she recalls the Remarkable Book Shop and Ice Cream Parlor — and settled here with her husband Michael, a writer. She raised their son Ben.
When he was grown, she decided to act on her urge to write. She found a group of local authors, and honed in on children’s literature.
Since she was a child, she read obituaries. She was interested in underdog stories, and when Kanokogi died in 2009, Catarevas was intrigued by her life. The only other place she read about Jewish girls she says, is in Holocaust-themed books.
Besides a couple of stories in Sports Illustrated and Hadassah, there was little written about Kanokogi. And, Catarevas admits, judo is “not the sexiest sport.”
Writing the book was difficult enough. Finding a publisher was even harder. There’s not a lot of market for children’s books about Jewish female judo experts.
In addition, the author admits, her subject was “not a delicate flower. She was a tough broad.”
Yet, she adds, “We all know about Billie Jean King, and other women sports pioneers. Rusty deserved to be known too. I wanted to bring her into the light.”
Catarevas found Kar-Ben, a publisher specializing in Jewish-themed material. The official publication date for Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo is May 2. It’s gotten strong pre-publication reviews.
Catarevas’ first book took more than a decade to finish and publish. Her second is already in the works.
It’s another children’s book, about a pioneering woman.
Annie Malone created a cosmetics line for Black women. She became one of the first African-American female millionaires.
You may not have heard of her, either.
Thanks to Eve Catarevas, you will soon.
(To pre-order Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo, click here.)