Karate student McKenna Mays won four medals at the 2016 AAU National Championships.
The Chris Welbon Karate Club team cleaned up at last week’s 2016 AAU National Championships, winning 33 medals. Brown belt McKenna Mays in the novice division won four: two gold, two bronze. Mays, 14, has only been training for two years.
You kicked butt in Fort Lauderdale. How did you feel, going out there?
I just remembered what Sensei Welbon taught me and what Mr. (Brian) Warren taught me, and I had that running through my head. I just did what they taught me to do.
What was the most important thing they taught you that you used?
The most important thing was to stay calm, relax, do what you do best: stay low in your stances, stay strong and keep your intensity going. Don’t stop.
How many people did you go up against?
In kata, it was three other people. In kumite, it was only two other people.
Those kids were some of the best of the best. How did you feel about going up against competition of this level?
I was a little nervous. I already knew one of the competitors, and she’s really good. I was kind of nervous about going up against her again, but I did really well, and I won.
Which gold medal event were you more nervous about: kumite or kata?
Probably kumite, because that’s where you can get injured.
At what point, when you were competing, did you start to feel less nervous, more confident?
What everyone always says is, in your first fight, you need to get all your nervousness out. In the first one I was like, ‘OK, I got this. I’m going to do what I do best.’
In the last fight, what did you do to make sure you won?
I could tell that her hand was up a little too far, so I just knocked it out of the way and punched her right in the ribs. I had two and a half points already, so that just gave me the last one I needed.
Was this your first AAU national tournament?
No. This was my second year competing and my second year at nationals. Last year, I didn’t do as well. I got third in the two divisions I was in.
So, what’s the difference between last year and this year?
A lot more coaching and a lot more hard work and more confidence in myself.
How long have you been doing karate?
A little bit under two years.
What got you into it?
My aunt and my uncle and my cousin, Ben, they did karate. I needed a sport. I saw this place and was like, ‘I’ll try it out.’ When I was a yellow belt, tournament team season was starting and I’m like, ‘Why don’t I try it?’ My parents, they wanted me to try it, so I tried it out and I loved it.
You said you needed a sport?
Yeah. I’m homeschooled, so I kind of needed some activity. Karate was it.
And you mentioned a lot of family members did it.
They still do it. My aunt and my cousin just got their black belts, and my other two cousins do Brazilian jiu jitsu.
Do you play any other sports?
This is about it. I used to do gymnastics for six years, and I did a little bit of volleyball, soccer, fencing, archery and dance.
What was it about karate that stuck for you?
It’s nice that we live really close, because all the other sports were really far away, and the instructors here are amazing. They are so helpful, and it’s just a lot of fun. You feel like a huge family here. I just love it.