Judo Champ Receives Gold Medal 50 Years Later

Success Summary: Rena (Rusty) Kanokogi was honored with a medallion that she earned but didn’t receive 50 years earlier. As the “Mother of Women’s Judo”, the medal also recognizes her lifetime accomplishments in promoting equality for women in sports. The award ceremony took place at the YMCA in Brooklyn, New York and received international press coverage.

The Challenge: Create a one-piece high quality medallion that’s synonymous with Rena’s accomplishments.

The Solution: The YMCA searched for a mint to create the high quality medal and selected Northwest Territorial Mint because of the distinguished client list and quality of the medals on the website.

The front side of the 3” medal is similar to the YMCA’s 1959 Judo Championships design. The wonderful dedication on the reverse side reads:  Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi, in recognition for a lifetime of inspirational leadership and commitment to equality for women in sports.

Ellen Murphy, YMCA Director – PR & Communications, described the finished medallion as “amazing quality and jaw dropping beautiful. I had no idea that a medal could be so beautiful.” She found Marty Colwell at Northwest Territorial Mint to be professional, detail oriented, honest and upfront about what was needed to create the medallion in such a short time frame. Ellen found the process to create artwork was easy … much easier than she anticipated.  

The Story: On August 21, 2009 legendary Judo pioneer Rena (Rusty) Kanokogi received a gold medal from the YMCA of Greater New York that she earned but didn’t receive 50 years earlier.

At the 1959 Judo state championship “Rusty” was part of the YMCA judo team from Brooklyn NY. When a male teammate was injured, she had her chance to compete. A woman had never competed in the championship though they were not explicitly banned. Nobody questioned her gender because she had short hair, athletic build, aggressive disposition, and the uniform disguised her figure.

After she won her fight and her team won the competition, the judges questioned Rena about her gender. When she admitted to being a woman, the judges demanded she forfeit her medal otherwise her teammates would have been stripped of their medals and championship title.

Multi-National Force - Iraq
Rena Kanokogi proudly wearing her well-deserved medal.

This demeaning incident changed her life. Rena channeled her determination and passion to become the highest-ranking woman in American judo and is recognized as the “Mother of Women’s Judo.” She also established the first women’s judo championships and women’s judo as an event in the Olympics.

Rena was pleased to receive the medallion and said “This one is even better.” She was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the medallion. She’s received other international recognition and awards. This one rivaled some of the most distinguished medals she’s received. Rena wore the medal that day and the next day. She proudly shows it to everyone. 

The stripping of her judo medal provoked Rena’s long personal crusade for women’s rights and opportunity to compete in judo. In the end, the presentation of the well-deserved medal helped right the wrong and finally honored Rena for her accomplishments.

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