You don’t have to be a sports fanatic to take pride in athletes from the community. Just consider how intensely professional athletes train: They must be conscious of every meal, every snack, every drink. They usually train all day, every day. And they might not even be paid — the U.S. is one of only two countries that do not financially support Olympic athletes at all, according to Team USA Fund Donor Impact.
That said, it’s special to make it that far and gain international recognition. Baltimore’s Jewish community has seen a few stories like this. So what happens later, when those legends can finally drink a milkshake and focus on a family or a full-time career? The JT caught up with a few of these athletes to find out: Where are they now?
STEVE KRULEVITZ: Lighting on the Tennis Court
Lightning struck in Baltimore, zapped the professional tennis world, and is now running his own academy in Brooklandville, Maryland.
Except this Lightning isn’t a natural spark of electricity. This Lightning is Steve “Lightning” Krulevitz, 68, a tennis champion known for his speed.
Raised a few blocks from the Pimlico race track, this Jewish, Israeli American found a passion for tennis.
“Tennis fueled me,” he said. Krulevitz is competitive, but he doesn’t prefer team sports.
“Sometimes in sports, I get frustrated if we weren’t doing as well as my high expectations,” he said. “Tennis, I realized, hey, it’s an individual sport. I had more control over the outcome than team sports.”
Krulevitz became what he calls a “court rat,” spending the daylight hours of his free time at the court near the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. Occasionally, he stopped practice to eat a snowball with “the guys.” That persistence paid off.
Krulevitz went on to make Baltimore proud; as a professional tennis player, he won gold in the Maccabiah Games in Israel, participated in nine Wimbledons, competed for the Davis Cup, and was inducted into the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame this past November. “When I played in Israel — that’s a lot of pressure because you’re not just playing for yourself but the entire country,” he said of the Maccabiah Games in 1977.
When he was 32, Krulevitz decided it was time for the next transition in his life.
“Some people offered me some jobs such as Wall Street, but I had sort of decided what I wanted to do,” Krulevitz said. “I decided to open an academy.”
That academy is the Steve Krulevitz Tennis Program in Brooklandville. It offers clinics, private lessons, and summer camps. The coaching program starts up
in February, and this summer will be the 36th year of his summer camp.
Krulevitz’s students now come to him asking for nicknames themselves. Or, rather, they tell him what nicknames to give them. Some include Banana God 27, Snowball, Blue Striker, and Hollywood.
While Krulevitz doesn’t practice Judaism as strictly as his Polish grandfather, he finds his Jewish identity in community.
“The other night we were watching a football team and the field ball kicker was Robbie Gould, and I’m watching it with my wife. I said, “I wonder if he’s Jewish.” If you’re Jewish … your antenna is always up for a Jewish name,” he joked, “so there’s a bit of pride.”
WENDY WEINBERG WEIL: Swimming Sensation
Pikesville native Wendy W. Weil, 61, learned to swim at the Suburban Club. She started swimming for North Baltimore Aquatic Club at age 7, but four years later, she was asked to leave because she was “not talented enough” for the team.
Through hard work and dedication to daily practice, she got better.
She swam for Johns Hopkins University, but for the men’s team because they didn’t have a women’s team at the time.
Weil showed up NBAC when she won four gold medals (and three silver) in the 1973 Maccabiah Games. She also medaled in the 1975 International Meet, the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, the 1977 Maccabiah Games, and the 1977 World University Games, among others. Weil described her Olympic experience as “stressful, overwhelming, life-changing, astounding, and exhilarating when I got a bronze and stood on the podium.”
She was fascinated by the Olympic Village because of how people found ways to communicate despite language barriers. “I especially remember seeing some of the Eastern bloc athletes who were used to a lot of culinary deprivation over-indulging at the cafeterias.” She said she did not talk to them, but tried to psych them out with glares.
Swimming opened doors for Weil and taught her life skills. “I am focused, structured, efficient, disciplined, and ambitious,” she said. “These may have been hard-wired into my personality, but swimming reinforced them.”
Today, Weil works long hours at her own physical therapy clinic in McLean, Virginia. Her office takes up the entire lower level of her house. She treats many swimmers, especially for shoulder problems. She plans to retire in a few years and then do more traveling.
In her free time, she works out, reads, bikes, hikes, and swims about three times a week with a master’s team. Sometimes she even scuba dives.
Weil is also still an active member of the Jewish community. “I am proud to be 100% Jewish, married to another Jew [Rick Weil], and have three grown-up Jewish children who were all bat or bar mitzvahed.”
All three of Weil’s children, now grown, have tried swimming, too.
“It is always anxiety-provoking to see your child compete in any sport, but I tried to never be a helicopter parent,” she said.
PAUL AND JOHN FRIEDBERG: A Fencing Family
Jewish athletes have won more Olympic medals for fencing than any other sport, according to Tablet Magazine.
Brothers Paul Friedberg, 60, and John Friedberg, 58, are two Jewish fencers. Paul Friedberg won gold in the 1981 Maccabiah Games and competed in the 1988 Summer Olympics. John Friedberg won two gold medals in the 1995 Maccabiah Games and competed in the 1992 Olympics.
The two grew up attending Sunday school at Har Sinai Congregation, where they had their bar mitzvahs.
“My weekends freed up after bar mitzvah, so I looked for things to do and there was fencing out of the JCC [in] Park Heights,” said Paul Friedberg. Because it was convenient for their mom’s driving route, younger brother John Friedberg eventually took up fencing, too. This was a feeder program into Johns Hopkins University.
Eventually, both made the Olympic teams. Both Friedbergs pick those moments as the highlight of their fencing career.
“Making the team was the highlight,” John Friedberg said. “The medals were secondary.”
Of course, both of them also faced challenges. For Paul Friedberg, important losses were a setback. John Friedberg said the biggest challenge for him was his 1987 injury, which required back surgery.
Because of their emotional investments in these highs and lows, the two have a deep connection. But they’ve also competed against each other, including for limited positions on the Olympic team. In the spur of the action, when they pull on their mesh-front masks, face each other, and begin the dance of advances and retreats, their brains go to war.
“We were pretty much at each other’s throats,” Paul Friedberg said. Both would get the most out of those sessions because of how competitive they got. “You get angry at each other and want to learn together,” he said.
But that energy ended when the game did.
“We always left it at the gym, and never had any animosity no matter what happened in the gym,” John Friedberg said. They trained together in New York, which Paul Friedberg called a decade of bonding.
“I started and he came along so I was pretty much beating up on him most of the time,” Paul Friedberg sai
d. “I would usually win in the early days. Then he became more competitive.”
“For the greater part of my career, he was better; I was always catching up,” John Friedberg said. “Toward the end of his career, I started to surpass him. He stepped back to focus on family, while I was still heavily into it.”
As the years passed, it became rarer for them to encounter each other in competitions, and it evolved into a shared pastime.
Now focused on his consulting career, Paul Friedberg still fences in his free time. He is an assistant volunteer coach for Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s team, and he goes to the Cambridge Fencing Center (run out of the same MIT location by the same head coach) on the weekends to train kids ages 10-14.
John Friedberg is now the coach of Fencing Club of Mercer County, N.J., which he started about seven years ago after his two daughters graduated college.
“I really like connecting with my students — there’s about 100 — and I’ve known many for a long time now,” he said. “I watch them grow, progress, enjoy learning.”
Paul Friedberg’s Jewish identity to him means culture. He and his wife live a block from a synagogue, to help them raise their sons Jewish.
John Friedberg and his wife also share a strong Jewish identity, and he sees the culture as a way to come together. Judaism to him is about family.
Despite their separate lives now, they do still fence together sometimes. Paul Friedberg tries to visit his brother’s club and rekindle the competition.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Paul Friedberg said. “The temperatures rise, and at the end of it, we’re still family.”