Karate competitors gain confidence, friendships

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Trinity High School junior Chloe Abernathy and her sister, Ava, an eighth-grader at St. Norbert School, took their first trip outside the United States recently.

They left for Ireland to take part in fights — and ended up with new friends from across the globe as well as a few medals.

Earlier this year, Chloe and Ava each won first place in point sparring in Evansville, Ind., qualifying them for the U.S. karate team at the World Kickboxing and Karate Union (WKU) World Championship in Kilarney, Ireland, from Aug. 27 to Sept. 1.

"I went from fighting only people from the Midwest area to fighting people from all over the world. I fought one girl from Wales and three girls from Germany," Chloe said of the WKU fights. Her competitors were kickboxers as well, "so it was definitely a different thing to have to go from being a karate fighter to a kickboxer," she said.

They spent 10 days in Ireland, and during the competition awoke about 8 a.m., competed, watched friends compete and met with other participants before retiring at about 9 p.m. The U.S. team had about 100 competitors, broken out into age groups and weight classes.

Chloe and friends from the team enjoyed getting together with team members from England. She also met a girl and her brother from Germany. Ava became friends with a girl from Wales. As members of a national team, Team Heartland Elite Karate, Chloe and Ava already were friends with U.S. team members.

Chloe earned a silver medal from the team fight at the world championship and Ava won two silver medals.

"I just leave it into God's hands," Chloe said of her participation in the sport. She's been injury-free since beginning the sport six years ago, except for a few bruises.

In her early years at St. Norbert, Chloe said she had little self-confidence, was shy and spent a lot of time reading a book on the playground. She told her mom she wanted to try karate, something different than what the other kids do. "I just kind of took off from there," Chloe said.

She's earned more than 90 trophies, but kept her participation in the sport to herself, finally telling her school friends at eighth-grade graduation. They were surprised but told her they recognized she had gained in self-confidence.

The 16-year-old trains at the Ferguson Martial Arts Center and is a blue belt in Kenpo Karate, soon to be testing for her green belt and aspiring for a black belt. Each belt rank involves learning 30 techniques and a couple forms. She's glad she became involved in karate because of the friends she's made and because she's learned to handle herself in a calm demeanor, knowing that if she ever needs to protect herself she has the ability.

Chloe is an excellent student, taking honors courses. "I like the diversity of all of us kids, everyone gets along" at Trinity, she said. "It doesn't matter your age, gender or race. You have friends in different grade levels."

She's a catcher on the softball team at Trinity, manages the baseball team in the spring, takes a choir class and has been involved with the drama club. She still manages to train for karate two nights a week and about five times a week in the summer.

Ava has trained at the Ferguson Martial Arts Center for five years and is a blue belt in Kenpo Karate. She also competes throughout the Midwest, winning more than 75 trophies. Also a top student at St. Norbert, she is a STEM Scout, is on softball and volleyball teams and her hobbies include cooking.

On an off day during the competition in Ireland, the girls went with their parents to historic St. Mary Church in Dingle Bay to pray and light candles. 

>> Fighting and friendship

Seeing people from different countries getting along so well was a highlight of the World Kickboxing and Karate World Championships in Ireland, according to Dave Abernathy, whose two daughters competed there.

It was especially evident at the social gathering was held after the competition. The competitors danced together and exchanged contact information.

At a martial arts competition, Abernathy said, "there's fighting going on. Obviously there's competition, people can get excited and emotions can run high. But there never was any conflict. Everybody got along. It's nice to know there are some peaceful people in the world. They're fighters after all, but they can come together and be friends, enjoying each other's company." 

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