For the past four years, Christina and Angelina have made their way regularly to the Illinois Shotokan Karate Club (ISKC.com) in Geneva, Ill., to practice. They have learned from some of the best, including Sensei Brian Mertell, who serves on the U.S. Olympic committee for karate. The girls are half way to earning their black belts.
The Romano sisters began their incredible journey at the urging of their father, Rick, who wanted them to be able to protect themselves. Their mother, Olga, came on board last year. “It helps us bond as a family,” Olga says. “It’s a lot of fun!”
Rick and Olga were incredibly proud of both of their daughters when, in the spring of 2013, they qualified for the Karate National Championship to be held later that summer. The family traveled to Greenville, S.C, in July and watched the girls compete against the nation’s best karate athletes in their age brackets. In order to compete at the national level, each of the contestants had to have placed at their state level. “They both pass good energy on to each other,” their mom shares.
Both sisters competed in sparring, which is essentially free-form fighting, and “kata,” which involves detailed, choreographed movements that they are required to memorize. Every belt rank has a different kata that must be mastered. Angelina took home first place in sparring. “It was very exciting to watch my sister win!” Christina enthuses.
Interestingly, competitors don’t know what kind of belt their opponents possess. They come in as either novice, intermediate and advanced in their age group, and they can only move up in class if they place at the national competition. “They were relieved when nationals were over, and they left feeling inspired and motivated for the next year,” their mom explains.
The Illinois Shotokan Karate Club prides itself in helping young students maximize their potential in this rigorous sport. Karate promotes self-discipline, confidence, coordination and fitness, and the sisters are reaping those benefits, and then some. Christina, a seventh grader, is a straight “A” student, plays the flute and also participates in gymnastics. Angelina, a fourth grader, plays the piano and is also involved in gymnastics. “Gymnastics helps our karate moves,” Christina explains. “It’s a very exciting sport!” Angelina exclaims.
“As their grandfather and as a former coach, I view their participation in karate as providing an opportunity, more than most sports, to experience and appreciate the efforts of others who have disciplined themselves to perform to the highest level of their abilities,” says Vincent Romano. “The outcome of each contest is secondary to the preparation itself. Karate, like all activities requiring discipline and dedication, is an exercise in self-discovery.”
The winter months have provided the girls with a lot of opportunities to hone their skills. They participated in the Jennifer Malloy Memorial Karate Tourney at Harper College on Feb. 8, where they won an additional five trophies beteween them, and are now gearing up for the Illinois State Championship, also to be held at Harper College at the end of April. If the girls qualify for nationals again, they will travel to Reno, Nevada, this summer.
“These are two very determined young ladies,” their mom observes. “They have lots of fun with this sport.” The sisters are very supportive of each other, practicing around the house with each other…and sometimes with their father! “Karate has helped with focus and discipline, structured play, setting goals, and striving for things,” their mom says. “I have seen them grow through this.”