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Nefeli Papadakis, Judo Champ, Hopes to Continue Her Olympic Dream

CHICAGO, IL – Greek-American Nefeli Papadakis, USA National Judo Team member, is ranked 26 in the world and #1 in the USA in Judo and still hopes to continue her Olympic dream though her efforts were put on hold due to the measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus, The Daily Herald (TDH) reported on April 22.

In March, Papadakis, 21, was in Constantinople waiting for a connecting flight to another tournament, having traveled on her own to judo tournaments around the world since she was a teen, when the International Judo Federation canceled the remaining Olympic-qualifying tournaments, two weeks before the International Olympic Committee, on March 24, postponed the 2020 Games to 2021, TDH reported.

A phone call from one of her coaches informed Papadakis that the tournament in Morocco was canceled, so “she decided to continue on to Greece where she has family, because her USA team had another tournament in Russia after the one in Morocco,” TDH reported.

“I waited it out like 10 days, and then they ended up canceling the Russia tournament last-minute, as well. I was like, 'I'm going to get a ticket home because there's no reason for me to stay here anymore and things are looking like they're getting bad,’” Papadakis told TDH.

That night, her parents called early in the morning, they told Papadakis, “There's a travel ban. You need to get home,” TDH reported, adding that Papadakis said, “They were freaking me out. It was a mess trying to get home.”

“A one-way ticket soared to $3,000, says Papadakis, who thanks to USA Judo was able to purchase a significantly lower-priced ticket,” TDH reported.

“I'm very thankful I was able to get home. You just couldn't find tickets home,” she told TDH.

When she heard that the Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021, Papadakis said, “I was relieved, mostly, because they've never postponed an Olympics before; they've only canceled them, I was really scared that they would cancel. My U.S. teammates and all of my friends internationally- they're from Greece, they're from Croatia, they're from Spain- were just so on edge because they were like, ‘Did we just do all this (training and preparation) for four years just for it to be canceled?’ That was my biggest fear the whole time. I was very anxious and stressed about it,” TDH reported.

At home, Papadakis and her family helped set up a gym for her since they “used to own a dojo in Waukegan and while it recently closed, all the equipment was in storage,” TDH reported, adding that “Papadakis says she carried 10 tatamis [judo mats] into her family's basement and cleaned them,” and “her dad made a DIY squat rack.”

She told TDH, “We did everything, we made like a basement gym, because it's looking like I'm going to be stuck here for quite awhile. I'm thankful to have that at least, because a lot of my [judo] friends are older and live in apartments and not everybody has a full basement to use [to train].”

AHEPA Little Fort Chapter 218 is also helping to support Papadakis’ Olympic dream. More information on the AHEPA fundraising effort for Nefeli Papadakis is available online: https://www.ahepa218.org/nefeli-olympic-dreams.

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