Michaela Whitebooi (25) is about to reach one of her life goals as she is headed to Tokyo to represent South Africa in the Judo competition in the Olympics.
Whitebooi is from the gang-ridden northern areas of Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape.
She has risen above her circumstances, excelling in Judo. Whitebooi won a silver medal during the 2019 African Games and two gold medals at the African Judo Championships.
She will be South Africa’s only representative in the Judo competition.
The 27-year-old started winning on the Judo mat from an early age. Her proud mother Minnie is still in disbelief at the heights her daughter reached. But staying on top requires constant work.
Whitebooi recently underwent training in Slovakia and Croatia to sharpen her skills. Now the goal is an Olympic medal, preferably gold.
“With the anticipation of judo international federation having to announce the final list for the Olympic, it was daunting, it was terrifying it was scary they were delayed process, when they officially announced the list for under 48 category I saw my name I couldn’t believe that I was shocked you know what you want you can see it and you manifest it your life I am able to represent my country,” she says.
Her mother says the 27-year-old always grew up having a small body.
“She says, she grew up having a small body, but that did have a negative impact but we are saddened the fact that we are no longer going to japan, we are proud of her, she has done well for her community and she continues to rise, she has uplifted the Whitebooi’s name and we are confident that she will raise the country’s flag high internationally,” she says.
Whitbooi wants to inspire the youth from her area through her success.
She also advocates education and is a graduate from the University of Pretoria.
“I receive beautiful messages everyday I receive motivational messages every day from young and old people. I never thought I would be given an opportunity standing here as Michaele Whitebooi the ambassador for judo, an amazing feeling to be able to push other people into the right direction, you have to push yourself. I can stay motivated then that wouldn’t give me happiness and joy in whatever I want to achieve.”
Sensei Rodney Clemence from the Booysens Park Judo Club played a central role in her development.
He says he met her in 2006 and the rest is history.
“She comes from our club and she showed signs of dedication at an early age and I am not surprised by her achievement, she is very dedicated and she is still going very far in Judo. She is the ambassador of the sport,” says Clemence.
Whitebooi’s legacy is already evident as the young judokas from the northern areas aim to follow in her footsteps. There will be no spectators at the Olympics due to the COVID pandemic. But that is of no concern for Whitebooi, who says even if there was no pandemic, her family would have been unable to travel to Tokyo due to financial challenges.