Six years ago, as Adi Rotem was pouring drinks for patrons at a bar, a glass of wine shattered in the palm of her left hand. It was precisely at that moment, as the shards pierced her skin, when her passion for fighting was reignited.
"I'm resuming my training," Israel's world champion kick-boxer told her coach, Avner Shalom.
After seemingly endless rehabilitation and training, she catapulted herself back into the ring and it paid off last week, when Rotem captured the women's kickboxing championship in the under-52 kilogram weight class.
Back in 2006 in Israel, after she defeated the national champion, Rotem had reached a point in her career when none of the coaches of her opponents wanted to send them to face her in the ring.
"I have no competition and I'm not advancing anywhere as a result," she then told her coach, who subsequently decided to send her to Amsterdam.
"I sacrificed my life, I put everything aside and I moved to Holland," Rotem explained. "I went to a gym run by Ivan Hippolyte (one of Holland's most accomplished martial artists), where there were many girls and the competition was intense.
"As the new girl, I took some vicious blows that are very hard to describe: They kicked me as I was up against the wall and they kneed me in the head without thinking twice," she said. "This was all part of the 'initiation ceremony' all new fighters go through when they break into a strange place.
"I fought bouts and afterward would spend the night at hostels together in the same room with tourists who smoked drugs," Rotem recalled.
Slowly but surely, the new gym became more pleasant for Rotem. One day, one of her training partners, a Dutch girl, decided to befriend the "lost child" from Israel. "She came to pick me up at the hostel, and invited me to sleep over at her house," Rotem said.
"We became good friends and I became her regular training partner. We thought about how I could make money, so I started to clean her friends' apartments so that I could get along financially. It was divine luck - that people opened their homes to me and told me: 'Come.' Today, I'm renting a room from [my partner] and I have my own corner to myself."
"After a year-and-a-half of solitude, I can safely say that I've got a home," Rotem declared.
Aside from cleaning, Rotem's other sources of income include private kickboxing lessons, help from her parents and a grant from the Ayelet sports foundation.
"My nose is barely above water," she explained. "I'm doing what I've wanted to do my whole life, and that is the most important thing for me. I'm happy, and I don't mind cleaning houses so long as afterward, I can get in the ring and hit someone and know that I have improved. My friends call me 'the bionic woman,' and Hippolyte refers to me as 'the mosquito' because I grab and annoy all the other girls."
Last week, Rotem competed in the K-1 kickboxing championship in Vienna. In the semifinals, she crushed her Turkish opponent. In the gold medal match, she was up against the Russian competitor, Eveniya Siviri.
"This was the bout of my lifetime," Rotem noted. "She began with an intense pace and in the beginning I was losing. By the middle of the first round, I understood exactly whom I was up against, and toward the end of the round I was in control," she said.
By the third and final round, the Israeli found herself clinging to an advantage as seconds ticked away, inching ever closer to the medal.
"Usually I'm much more aggressive and I want to instigate, but this time I decided to be smart and not risk my advantage," Rotem said.
After a technical knockout, she was crowned world champion of her weight class.
"I didn't think about anything," she said. "I just listened to the announcer and I started to cry. The tears didn't stop flowing for a full 15 minutes. I worked so hard for this title. If I didn't capture it, who would?
"People say I used to be violent as a child," Rotem added. "If somebody didn't sit down in kindergarten, then that person would take a beating from me. In kickboxing, you're allowed to knee someone and to punch them in the face. Almost anything goes, and that's what is cool about it."
Alongside her world title, Rotem also celebrated her 30th birthday. "I knew I would not come back without this present," she said. "My dream came true, but I have many more titles to capture. When I stood on the victors' podium in Austria, it was clear to me that this was not my last time up there."
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