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Pearl River County athletes earn two bronze medals in karate

Top tier athletes want to go up against the best competition, which is why making it to a world competition in any sport is an achievement.

Hayden Walker and Katie Barkman represented not only Pearl River County, but the United States when they traveled to Italy to compete in the WKMO World Cup.

The competition took place in Montecatini Terme, Italy with Walker and Barkman competing on Nov. 23 and Nov. 24.

One day was designated to the testing of the athletes’ kata, a form of movements judged on intensity and accuracy.

The second day was filled with sparring as Barkman and Walker took on athletes from all over the world.

There were 1,250 competitors and the two Pearl River County residents were supposed to be competing in the blue belt classification.

However, both athletes were moved into the black belt rank without their sensei Tom Kelly being notified until the competition had already begun.

Even though Barkman and Walker were moved up in rank in an already tense worldwide competition, both ended up earning bronze medals for their sparring performances.

Kelly said watching his two athletes compete at the highest level against experienced athletes while not backing down said a lot about their mindset.

“I think it says a lot about them and their determination. That didn’t just appear, there’s been determination all along from them in order to prepare for this tournament,” Kelly said.

Both athletes spent extra hours training with Kelly in preparation for the World Cup and the work paid off as both brought home medals while representing their country.

Just because the World Cup is over doesn’t mean Kelly and his students are slowing down.

Kelly said he’s told both that now is not the time to be stagnant.

Instead, both athletes will continue training and Kelly said if they stay on the right path they’d become some of the best in the world.

“You don’t want to let up where you are now. You’ve gotten to this specific level, now it’s time to hit the accelerator to keep going. Both have the capability to go a long ways in this,” Kelly said.

Another competition is on the horizon, which could serve as a milestone for Walker and Barkman.

The World Karate Martial Arts Organization (WKMO) is currently in discussion with the Olympic committee to bring all forms of martial arts to the 2024 summer Olympics in France.

Kelly said Barkman and Walker have the potential to compete on that level when the time comes.

“If they buy into that, both of these kids will be serious contenders by the time those come around again,” Kelly said.

Kelly teaches karate to keep the art form alive and has tried to pass on the lessons and skills that come with karate to each person who comes through his dojo.

That will now include younger children as Kelly has decided to open up his dojo to youngsters interested in learning the art.

Community members interested in learning from Kelly can reach him at 601-966-1064.