By Nancy Price
While many of Nya Schank’s sophomore classmates at Center Grove High School were spending free time last August texting or on social media, shopping for new clothes or going to parties or movies with friends, she was competing in Ecuador at the 2019 Pan American Champions as a member of the Junior U.S. Karate Team.
Schank began taking karate lessons at Shodan Karate Academy in Greenwood when she was 7. “I had a friend in karate, so I tried it out and ended up really liking it,” she said. Within just a couple of months, she was already training with the karate academy’s competition team. “Even when I branched off and tried new things, I never took a break from karate because I just knew I would miss it,” Schank continued. “Even when we go a few weeks without classes for Christmas break it just feels like something’s missing.”
Shodan Karate Academy teaches those age 4 and up; the classes range from beginner’s level to advanced black belts. “Our academy teaches and practices Shotokan karate style,” said Sensi Ricardo Guerrero. “Shotokan is a traditional form of Japanese karate-do, widely practiced in the United States.” Guerrero, who holds a 5th Dan from Shotokan Karate USA, competed in the Pan American Games with his native Venezuela team at age 14. He’s been practicing karate for more than 35 years and teaching for 23 of them.
Schank said she enjoys the challenging aspect of focusing mentally with karate as much as the physical side. “I’m used to the physical training, and honestly that’s the easy part. Now it’s all a game of staying focused and persevering. It’s something I’m always working on and improving in myself. You can be the strongest or the fastest person out on the mat but if you don’t have it all together in your head, you can’t perform to the best of your ability,” she said.
Now 16, she holds a black belt in Shotokan karate, attends the advanced and adult class twice a week at Shodan along with a weekly competition class and has private lessons with Guerrero during tournament time. “In August prior to the Pan Am Championships, she was doing seven to eight hours of class and private lessons as well as additional hours of working out on her own per week,” said Guerrero. “In any given day she may have trained two to four hours as well as attend school. Nya is also one of our paid instructors and teaches classes to students ages 4-11, two days a week. “Needless to say she lives at the dojo in the evening hours.”
Although Schank admitted there are occasional moments she feels bitter about much of her free time being taken, “I do feel like the time I devoted and the training I’ve done was worth it and I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to go to Pan Am,” she said. “You get out of life exactly what you put into it, so those kinds of compromises are necessary if you expect to achieve your goals. (Competing in Pan Am) was an amazing experience and I learned so much so I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”