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Former CLC student competes in first Olympics

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Aug 24, 2021

The Olympics are the pinnacle of athletic achievement, drawing in the greatest athletes in the world to compete on a world stage. At the recent Tokyo Olympics, College of Lake County (CLC) proudly had a former student competing at the highest level.

Nefeli Papadakis, who attended CLC in 2017, competed in judo and has been practicing the sport since she was just four years old.

Nefeli Papadakis“My older brother did judo, and I was always asking my dad if I could go with,” Papadakis said. “A few months later, I was doing it too.”

18 years later, Papadakis earned a spot on the United States Olympic team through a process that took even more time and work than usual because of the one-year delay of the games.

Typically, qualifying for the judo team happens over a two-year period. Through a series of qualifying tournaments, most of which take place outside of the United States, competitors earn points recorded on the world rankings list. At the end of the two years, the top 22 in each weight class make the team.

Because the Olympics were delayed for a year, that meant the qualifying season was three years instead of two. Though the process became tiring, Papadakis didn’t let it affect her mindset.

“Everyone was going through the pandemic,” she said. “My teammates and opponents had to do it too. It sucked for everyone equally.”

This was the first time Papadakis attempted to qualify for the Olympics. Because she’s still young, she went into the qualifying with a “nothing to lose” attitude.

After what she described as a “very long” three years, Papadakis successfully qualified for the Olympics.

“It was a breath of fresh air,” she said. “A lot more work goes into it behind the scenes than people realize.”

On top of her training, which was five or six hours every day, Papadakis is also pursuing a degree in business administration. CLC fit exactly what she needed to accommodate her busy practice schedule.

“CLC offered the flexibility to allow me to continue my education with online classes,” Papadakis said. “It was also a better option for me financially.”

Currently, she is attending DeVry University, which has a partnership with Team USA and its athletes.

When Papadakis arrived in Tokyo, she had no prior knowledge of what it was like competing in the Olympics. Because of that, the changes brought on by the pandemic didn’t have much of an effect on her.

Athletes’ families couldn’t join them on the trip due to restrictions. While it was difficult, it wasn’t foreign to Papadakis.

“Lots of judo tournaments are in Europe and Asia,” she said. “It’s too expensive for my family to come with me. Everyone wished their family and friends could’ve been there, but I knew I had a lot of friends and family watching from home.”

On her Instagram, @nef.papadakis, Papadakis enjoys posting about her journey in judo. While in Tokyo, she was still able to share her behind the scenes experiences with her friends and family.

Papadakis also said there hadn’t been fans at tournaments for over a year, so that didn’t bother her either.

In terms of what she enjoyed most, Papadakis said it was competing, even if she lost in the first round.

“I felt good going into it,” she said. “I was in shape, and I had done a lot of groundwork to gameplan for my opponent. I was disappointed initially because I didn’t do so well, but it lit a fire in me and motivated me to get back to training and getting ready for the Paris 2024 games.”

Papadakis also enjoyed the media exposure her sport received and interviews she was able to do. Judo isn’t as popular in the United States as it is in other parts of the world, and she was happy the sport and athletes got some recognition.

About College of Lake County

College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.