Lisel Judge was ready. She had her uniform and her mind on the gold.
But the then-20-year-old would never compete in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. The reason, she says: Her father was Jewish.
"There was a knock on the door, and a Nazi told me I couldn't do it," recalled Judge, who is now 100 and lives in Boca Raton. "I was a little upset to say the least."
Judge, who began fencing at age 8, was a promising athlete with championships under her belt. When word got out that her father was Jewish, Judge was cut from her fencing club — her dream of reaching the Olympics shattered, she said.
But her fencing career was far from over. Judge would go on to be a recognized fencing coach in the United States. And with this year's summer Olympics in full swing, she says she can't help but look back on the opportunity she lost, but also the successes she achieved.
The situation for Jews in Germany only got worse in the years following the Olympics, so Judge boarded a train to flee the country with her husband and new baby.
"I was in fear for my baby more than anything else," she said.
After about two hours, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere, she said. Someone spoke over the loudspeaker and directed all Jews to get off. Judge bribed a Nazi with her bracelet and watch to let her, her husband and her baby go, she said.
Together, they went from Holland to England and eventually took a boat to America, where they settled in Boston, she said. There, Judge taught fencing at private schools and the YMCA. She even started a fencing club.
"She was always teaching somewhere because she liked doing it, and she liked winning," Judge's daughter, Barbara Oppenheim, said.
One day, Judge got a phone call from the president of Brandeis University in Boston, offering her a job as a fencing coach.
"I said, 'Of course I would do it,'" she recalled.
'We beat one after another'
During her 25 years as coach for the university, Judge led three teams to national championships — a feat she said was "very easy."
"I taught the girls what to do and what not to do," she said. "We beat one after another. We went everywhere and beat everyone."
Fencing is like chess, Judge said.
"You have to be ahead of every move. You have to expect that move and condition yourself for what's coming and then do it."
Her advice for fencers: "Be better than the other guy."
In her late 40s, Judge went back to school to become a professor. Upon graduating, she was promoted to head of the university's women's athletics department. In 1996, she was inducted into the university's hall of fame.
"I remember going to the tournaments when I was little," Judge's son, Philip Oppenheim, said. "The passion she had for the sport and the way people respected her — she always wanted to be the best, and she was."
'She was just inspiring'
If you ask Judge, she'll say she wasn't a tough coach — "more of a friend." But others remember her as competitive and strict.
"Perfection — you don't win championships without being perfect. And that's where she pushed [her students], and the girls respected her for that," her son said.
Keenan Keel had never picked up a fencing foil before meeting Judge. During her time as Judge's student at Brandeis from 1968 to 1972, Keel became a top fencer and went on to coach the sport at the university years later.
"She put you in a position where you wanted to learn," said Keel, 66, who keeps in touch with her former coach. "She was fluent in different techniques and styles, and she was very encouraging."
Keel said she learned how to be a good sport from Judge, especially knowing her past struggles in Germany. "She was just inspiring," Keel said.
Carla-Mae Richards, 80, was Judge's fencing student at Brandeis from 1957 to 1959 and went on to become executive director of US Fencing.
Judge "was very patient, very diligent and demanding in a good way, and very supportive," Richards said. "She did a lot for the women's fencing program. Most of her focus was on hard work and, 'Let's win. You can do it.'"
At Brandeis, Judge brought a cohesiveness to the fencing program, even in the '50s, which was a tough time for women in sports, Richards recalled.
"Brandeis was a pretty new school at the time, so getting people interested in sports instead of academics was a challenge," Richards said. "It was not a sports-oriented school, but [Judge] took it in stride and got enough girls interested in it. She made it fun to learn about yourself through the sport and work together as a team."
Judge retired at 65 and moved to South Florida. To this day, she says she watches the Olympic fencing and says to herself, "I can do that."
"I could cry. I should be there," she said. "I'm upset, but there's nothing I can do about it."