quinta-feira, novembro 11, 2010

Judo standout free to pursue dreams after leaving Cuba

Miamisburg's Leyen Zulueta (left) practices judo techniques and principles with the Kettering Rec Center Judo Club.
By Sean McClelland, Staff Writer

10:09 PM Saturday, September 25, 2010

She says her coach stole money from her, and that wasn’t the worst of it. When she and her Cuban judo teammates fared poorly, he would subject them to humiliating punishments such as cutting their hair.

“Our coach,” Leyen Zulueta says simply, “was mean.”

Protest, of course, was out of the question.

“You can’t express your opinion in Cuba,” she said. “They can put you in jail.”

Zulueta, 30, had been given a house, but she thinks it was part of a ploy to keep her around.

It didn’t work.

Seven years ago, while returning home from Japan with the Cuban national team, Zulueta defected to Mexico on a layover. She spent a year in South Florida and now lives in Miamisburg with her husband and their 6-month-old son.

Granted citizenship in January, Zulueta trains with the Kettering Rec Center Judo Club and hopes to represent the United States at the 2010 London Olympics.

“What she’s trying to work out right now is how much time she’ll be able to dedicate to judo,” her coach, Russ Scherer, said. “She has the ability.”

Whatever happens, Zulueta is enjoying her freedom more than she can describe.

“Once Cuban athletes get out of the country, our eyes open,” she said. “We see how athletes can live without fear.”

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