Magnificent seven chosen to represent UK in Florida

Tahjae and Taia Kersey, Oliver Kostrzewski, Jace Miller, Jessica Etherington, Samuel Turner and Bethany Snell

Seven students at Evolution Karate Academy in Ipswich have been chosen to represent their country at an international tournament - Credit: Leonie Kersey

An Ipswich karate club is celebrating the selection of seven of its students to represent the UK in Florida this summer. 

Leonie Kersey, coach at Evolution Karate Academy, said that the achievement is "massive" for the club and those that learn there, especially after such a difficult few years, when training together was impossible. 

It is the first time the club is sending seven members at one time.

Four children, including Leonie's twin daughters Tahjae and Taia, aged 12 and 13, with the three other competitors over the age of 18.

Tahjae and Taia Kersey, Oliver Kostrzewski, Jace Miller, Jessica Etherington, Samuel Turner and Bethany Snell are now all raising money to get them to the event, which is held in Florida in the first week of July - with £10,000 needed.

Coach Leonie said: "I took up karate when I was four years old, starting to train with the England squad when I was 14 - though I couldn't compete for the country until I was 18. 

"I won gold at the European Championships in my first year and got a silver in my second, but when I had my first son it was time to retire from competition. 

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"It was impossible to stick to the training routine with a child, there wasn't enough time in the day, but I did get quite down, missing that feeling of competing. 

"Someone said to me that I should go into coaching and get that feeling from the students."

Leonie Kersey with Tahjae and Taia Kersey, Oliver Kostrzewski, Jace Miller

Leonie Kersey with four of the students chosen to compete in Florida - Credit: Leonie Kersey

She set up the club in 2006 and has seen students chosen to compete for England before - but never seven in the same year. 

Funding for karate from UK Sport is very low compared to other sports; according to figures in relation to the Tokyo Olympics, judo received more than £6m compared to the £630,000 given to karate. 

Consequently, the seven athletes are having to crowdfund to cover the costs of the trip, with £10,000 the minimum needed to ensure flights, accommodation, entry and visas can be paid for. 

But that doesn't factor in new equipment, transport and essentials, like food and drink, while in Florida. 

Leonie said: "I know that these sports can be expensive. My mum was a single parent and she struggled and went without in order to get me to the places where I could achieve. 

"And I'm a single parent, so I know that cut-backs are necessary, as proud as I am that two of my children want to follow in my footsteps. 

"But if we can raise enough to cover the costs - from fundraising pages, car washing and generous local businesses like Fleximise, who have already pledged - then the parents will only need to worry about paying for themselves."

One of Leonie Kersey's daughters training

Leonie Kersey says she's proud her daughters have chosen to follow in her footsteps - Credit: Leonie Kersey

With so much disruption to training due to the pandemic restrictions, Leonie praises the youngsters for their dedication to keeping up with karate during lockdown; it may have made the difference in getting them to the Karate England standard. 

"We set up on Zoom four nights a week because the normal places we'd train weren't available," she explained. "Everyone would be in their front rooms or their kitchens. 

"Then when we were allowed to gather and the weather was good enough, we'd do a few hours each night on Ravenswood Green. 

"I set challenges, like how many kicks could they do in a minute. It was just about changing the way we trained. 

"A lot of clubs didn't do that, but my big thing was that this wasn't going to last forever and we didn't want to drop off. 

"And we didn't. When we were able to get back together, everyone had raised their game.  

"Fitness was well up and they didn't need to relearn anything, they just needed to get used to partner activities again. 

"Nobody was disheartened, everyone had focused and it's paid off: it's such a massive achievement."

Tahjae and Taia Kersey practicing karate

During lockdown, the Ipswich karate club had to work out different ways to train - Credit: Leonie Kersey

Evolution Karate Academy is looking for sponsorship or donations to help these seven students get to represent the country at the WUKF (World Union of Karate-Do Federations) World Championships.