Meryl Swidler wanted to try karate at a young age because of a dare, but the Hampshire High School junior has grown to love and excel at the sport.
Swidler, from Gilberts, will compete in the World Karate Council World Karate Championships on Oct. 14 to 20 in Taranto, Italy. She qualified at the WKC USA Nationals on June 7 and 8 in Dearborn, Mich., in freestyle, creative weapons and extreme.
At the age of 5, Swidler did not know much about karate and was involved in other things that didn’t involve sparring or weapons. She thought karate was simply beating up bad people.
“I started out as a typical little girl doing ballet and tap dancing,” Swidler said. “A boy told me I couldn’t do [karate] and I wanted to prove him wrong.”
Her parents put her into a class at Z’s Martial Arts in Huntley, where she still trains today.
“I kind of fell in love with it. It clicked with me,” Swidler said. “It felt natural, like eating and breathing.”
That immediate attraction to the sport also made the dedication needed to succeed a little easier or at least more bearable. Swidler said she has had to sacrifice some things but that from an early age karate has been her priority.
“It’s become my life. Everything I do, it’s always karate first,” Swidler said. “I’ve blown off so many sleepovers.”
Along the way, Swidler learned that karate was more than just fighting, and it has helped her to excel in other areas of her life.
“Karate has taught me self-defense and self-discipline and taught me to be a better person,” Swidler said.
Swidler has friends who have the same perception of karate as she did when she was little.
So you just go around and kick people and beat them up?” Swidler said she is sometimes asked. “I have so many people that just found out I was in karate.”
And while she doesn’t train in dance anymore, those skills have helped her in karate. When she was 8 and a little more than 4 feet tall, she impressed her instructor with how flexible she was, particularly in getting her legs high in the air.
“I was able to kick my 6-foot-3 instructor in the head,” Swidler said. “Dance helped me tremendously in everything I do.”
Swidler has competed in many area and regional tournaments but had never competed in a national tournament until this year. Advancing to worlds is still kind of a shock to her.
“It just hit me when we bought the plane tickets,” Swidler said. “I’ve just been overwhelmed with it.”
She is excited to compete on an individual level but is even more pumped about being a part of Team USA.
“Being a part of that and representing your country is such a big honor,” Swidler said. “This may not be the Olympics, but it’s a part of something where you get to represent your country. It’s huge.”
• Rob Smith is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.