The Japanese translation for judo is “gentle way.” Although judo emphasizes yielding to an opponent’s strength in order to overcome him, the sport can be anything but gentle. In fact, while throwing opponents to the floor wins most matches, it is the only Olympic sport where submission holds allow for choking an opponent or breaking an arm.
The sport has played an important role in the life of Alex Ottiano (GSM’08). The top-ranked judoka in the United States for his weight class from 2000 to 2004, Ottiano was a member of the U.S. Olympic team in Sydney and later in Athens.
Ottiano’s love of judo came from an early life-lesson from his father, he says. “When I was 10, I wanted to play the saxophone,” he recalls, “but I was just awful. I told my dad I didn’t want to play anymore.”
“He said that just because I wasn’t good at something right off didn’t mean I should just quit,” Ottiano says, “so I didn’t.” Soon, though, his family agreed that the sax might not be where his true talents lie.
Inspired by watching Bruce Lee movies, he turned to judo and found he had a real talent for the sport, a talent that might enable him to fulfill a boyhood dream: participating in the Olympics.
It was not an easy road –– he had to wake up at 5 a.m., work out three times a day, watch his diet, and occasionally get slammed to the mat –– but Ottiano feels the experience defines who he is today. “I’m very motivated and competitive,” he says, “and I think these attributes translate very well to the business world.”
His business experience has included stints at Home Depot and Monster.com, where he worked on promotions, developed programs for tracking customers, and helped coordinate various media events. Although completely different from judo, it provided his first exposure to management responsibilities.
“I know I have to develop sound business skills in areas such as finance and marketing to be successful,” says Ottiano, “and I believe the School of Management presents me with the best way to do that.”
He’s also exploring internship possibilities in finance and has been working with the Career Center counselors to tailor a career strategy. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to have parents who supported me, as well as teachers who excelled at teaching the fundamentals while at the same time getting me to set real stretch goals,” he says. “Those are ideas I’ve focused on when speaking to others [at community events and schools while a member of the U.S. Olympic team], and in considering what I might be doing 5 or 10 years from now.”
This article originally ran in the fall 2006 Builders & Leaders magazine.