Meryl Swidler returned home from Italy as a world karate champion.
Swidler, from Gilberts and a junior at Hampshire, won a gold and two silver medals at the World Karate Council World Karate Championships from Oct. 14 to 18 in Taranta, Italy. She won in creative weapons in the 16- to 17-year-old girls division and took second in extreme forms and creative forms.
After a stopover in Munich, Germany, another flight to Bari, Italy, and then a long car ride, Swidler was tired but ready to compete.
She said competing at worlds was both a unique and familiar experience. The biggest difference was getting to compete as a member of Team USA instead of as just an individual.
With more than 100 competitors on the U.S. team and many other teams from around the world, Swidler said it was overwhelming how many people were there.
“I knew maybe eight people from the team,” Swidler said. “I wasn’t expecting there to be so many teams. It was crazy getting to see all these different people.”
Swidler qualified for the finals as a top-four finisher Oct. 15. With the finals not until Oct. 18, she had a lot more time to just be a fan.
“I had to wait three days to compete again, but I got to cheer on my other teammates,” Swidler said. “I’ve never been on a team. I thought it was pretty cool to cheer for other people besides your friends.”
The best part of being a spectator for Swidler was cheering for her country’s team and hearing all of the other countries’ cheers.
“All these people from all these different countries you’d hear all these different chants,” Swidler said. “It was the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced. There’s so much energy in the place.”
The break also gave her some needed training and preparation time.
“I still had time to practice, which was good,” Swidler said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to be ready for the finals.”
Once out on the mat, the competition took on a more familiar feel.
“I had a mix of emotions. I went into the competition nervous but excited but calm at the same time,” Swidler said. “I treated it like every other competition, just go in and have fun.”
For Swidler, competing at worlds was not the summit, just part of a lifelong journey.
“I’m never going to stop. Martial arts is my life,” Swidler said. “When I’m competing, it just feels right.”
• Rob Smith is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.