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From the south Bronx to Beijing

Although Taraje Williams-Murray could not be reached for comment last week, the south Bronx judo gold medal hopeful took the time to discuss his journey to Beijing and his quest to succeed at the 2008 Summer Olympics. 

“Being a Bronx native in Beijing, and abroad in general, serves as a wonderful opportunity to shatter some stereotypes and cultural barriers,” he said.  “I accept the responsibility to speak and be an example for my hometown and country.”

Williams-Murray, who recalled ducking bullets once as a youth, the Bronxite did not let his surroundings hold him back, as he remained focused on the positive examples in his life. 

“Growing up in the Bronx changed over time,” he recalled.  “As a young kid, my neighborhood was not the best, but it improved as I grew older.  It made me mature very quickly and tough at a young age.  I always had expectations to do something great in my life.”

Williams-Murray credits his mother and father with instilling a sense of entitlement in himself and his siblings, stating that he is proud to be the individual he is today thanks to them. 

The south Bronx native was home schooled for most of his elementary years, spending one year at the Health Opportunities High School, before beginning his undergraduate degree at the young age of 15 at Long Island University in Brooklyn. 

At the same time, he was excelling in his education to become a judo master, having grown up in a family of judo competitors.

 

“My cousin was into martial arts and he showed me a few throws and pins in his house on a small mat he had,” Williams-Murray said.  “I loved the contact and control.  At the  age of 8, I began judo at the Jamie Towers Judo Club with Ralph Reyes.”

And he’s never looked back, having to take a year off from college to make the 2004 Olympic team. 

Still, despite the training, the judo star graduated from college in 2007 and began working on his masters in banking and financial services management at Boston University Metropolitan College through the school’s distance learning program that summer.  He expects to graduate in May 2009. 

In the meantime, Murray-Williams is excelling in his sport, having won the bronze medal at the Pan Am Championships before winning the U.S. Olympic trials a month later. 

“A soon as my finals match was over and I knew I had made the team, I started to tear up,” Murray Williams said.  “I thought about all that I had risked, given, lost and gained and it bought tears to my eyes.  It was a wonderful moment that I was able to enjoy with my coaches, family and girlfriend.”

Murray-Williams recently released a DVD titled Beyond the Rings, which catalogs the sacrifice it takes to make an Olympic team and how it affected his life personally, financially and socially.  Preparing for the games itself is even harder. 

“Preparation for the Olympics is everyday,” he said.  “I have been working towards this day for the past three years.”

Training includes early morning runs, and two and three workouts a day with judo everyday.  Murray-Williams has been dieting for two years to make his weight (60 Kg), while taking hundreds of dollars of supplements a month, and also sleeping in a high altitude simulator to help him prepare.  The medal hopeful also watches hours of judo competitions to scout his potential opponents. 

“Preparing for the Olympics has taken every once of my effort and tremendous sacrifice,” he said, but to win a medal, Murray-Williams must “fight up to my potential.  I have put in the work and prepared as well as I could.  All I can do at this point is stick to the game plan my coaches have prepared for me and give every ounce of myself.”

Since talking with the South Bronx judo star, Murray-Williams competed and did not achieve his dream of a medal, but did achieve the dream of having his mother come out to watch him compete.  To read more about his inspirational tale, go to www.taraje.com or www.beyondtherings.com

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