Polish judoka Andżelika Stachowiak’s is somewhat of a pioneer in Poland.
The 28-year-old from the Wielkopolska-Poznań area started doing judo at the age of 16. At the time, the Poznan Judo Club where she trains was only one of two in the country which catered for athletes with disabilities.
Coached from the start by Dariusz Migdałek, more than a decade later Stachowiak made history on her international debut at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.
Alongside teammate Marcin Liszcz, Stachowiak’s silver medal came as Special Olympics Poland competed in judo for the first time.
“I like throwing my opponents, other judoka. I like that very much,” Stachowiak said. “It makes me feel happy.”
“Andżelika is a very positive woman,” Migdałek, who is also a physical education teacher, continued. “When she fights, she is happy.”
Stachowiak’s delight—and expertise—in downing her opponents is no accident.
Migdałek believes it is her twelve years-experience, which means she can challenge for medals:
“It’s why she is so good,” he said.
As is the norm among judoka, Stachowiak has a close relationship with her coach. The pair enjoy a “very good” relationship, forged over her entire athletic career.
“Sometimes he has to be kind and warm and sometimes he has to be loud and firm,” Stachowiak went on to say. “He has good experience.”
Alongside other members of the Polish team, Stachowiak is in her final preparations for the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin.
This time she is hoping to go one step further when she steps onto the mat at the Berlin Messe.
“My target is the gold medal. I want very much to win. It is very important for me.”
Stachowiak is also looking forward to experiencing the local culture for the first time.
“I have never been to Germany so I am excited about that. I would like to see how it is, the people and the architecture in Berlin.”
Remembering Abu Dhabi
Looking back on her performance and experience in 2019, Stachowiak and her mother remembered the emotions of the day she took her silver medal.
“I was very proud. I gave everything I could on the mat. [My final fight] was my most memorable fight. This fight is most memorable because it was the most difficult of the competition,” Stachowiak said of her gold-medal bout against Dutch judoka Rosita Ruigrok in the women’s division 9.
“It was a very good experience. My first time at a big competition. I made a lot of friends because I was there for three weeks. I met a lot of good people.”
“Judo is a very big journey in Andżelika’s life”, her mother commented. “She can go to very different places in the world, a lot of competitions not only for Special Olympics. Dariusz is very important to Andżelika and the judo community is also.”
“I felt very proud and very happy [in Abu Dhabi]. There were a lot of emotions, pride and love.”
Before the 2023 World Games—and in-between her job as a cleaner—Stachowiak will compete at the Polish National Championships. The final build-up to Berlin 2023 will see her focusing on her speed and reactivity during a fight as well as her favourite part of the sport; throwing.
Then once in Berlin, Stachowiak will not only be relying on her own skills when she finally arrives on the tatami.
She will also be channelling the achievements of a fellow judo pioneer—Poland’s Atlanta 1996 Olympic gold medallist Pawel Nastula: “He was the best and I want to be the best too,” she said.