Chicago Karate Teen Sets Sights On Olympics

Chicago Karate teen sets sights on OlympicsWhen Abby Ford was 7, she said she was "extremely shy and scared of everything," and that parents of a friend suggested she go to a karate class.
Eight years later, the Joliet resident has so much confidence that she is gunning for the 2020 Olympics in the sport.

Ford is a highly decorated fighter who is a sophomore at Plainfield Central. Her most recent triumph was a World Shotokan championship in Poland in October. District administrators were so impressed that she was featured in a recent assembly and was honored at a District 202 board meeting.

Early on, she said she had no desire to attend a park district-level beginner karate class, but once she made it through the door, things changed.

"There were more kids like me in that class," she said. "There were a lot of kids who needed to pump their confidence up. I felt comfortable.''

Now she swears by the sport.

"It's hard to explain, but it teaches me so much," she said. "And I'm talking about outside of karate, too. It teaches you to be better in school. I've made so many relationships including people from Brazil, Mexico …even if we don't speak the same language, we all have karate in common. It's the new experiences that keep me going.''

The Karate Nation website has Ford ranked eighth in the world in the 14-15 age division and fifth among USA fighters.

That has her hoping for an Olympic bid in 2020. Karate is not an Olympic sport, but it's on the agenda for inclusion for the 2020 games in Japan. The final decision is expected in August.

Meanwhile, Ford is preparing for the field to be small.

"It's a limited amount of people who can go, so I'm going to train my butt off to try to go," she said. "There may be only 10 people in the world competing in each division.''

While some people might view karate and ultimate fighting as similar, Ford said there are big differences.

"In karate you are not allowed to hit that hard where you are trying so knock someone out," she said. "There are penalties and you can get disqualified for that stuff. And my age, they don't want us to get seriously hurt. They don't want career-ending injuries. You can hit hard to the body, but you really have to watch out for the head.''

That doesn't mean she doesn't get injured. She has missed time with concussions and she's had therapy on her knees.