Steamboat athletes rise to top of martial arts world | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat athletes rise to top of martial arts world

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Ward family of Steamboat Springs struck gold, silver and bronze last month at the North American Grappling Association’s Colorado Grappling Championships, which were held at the Foothills Field House near Denver.

NAGA, one of the largest promoters of submission grappling tournaments and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, returned to Denver for the March 17 competition after a six-year hiatus. Chris Ward decided the event was the perfect place for his children to expand their love of a sport he had enjoyed as a child.

"I had heard about NAGA just from years of doing MMA (mixed martial arts)," Ward said. "When I heard the NAGA was coming to Colorado and that they had a kids division, I was like, ‘Heck let’s do it, let’s get the kids in the competition.’ They did pretty well in it, so I'm pretty excited.”

So the Ward family loaded into a car and made the trip to a competition that featured more than 500 competitors grappling in a number of different divisions based on age and ability. NAGA holds events across the country at different times, and this competition was the Colorado championships.

Competitors competed in Gi and No-Gi, which are two forms of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In Gi Jiu Jitsu, the athletes are allowed to grab the clothing of their opponent. No-Gi is grappling without the traditional uniform, instead wearing shorts and a rash guard. In No-Gi, the athlete cannot grab the opponent’s clothing.

Ivy Ward competed in the 1o-year-old division where she collected three medals at the Colorado Championships including a gold in No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu, a silver in Gi and a bronze in Absolute, where competitors compete based on age, but there are no weight classes.

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Aspen Ward collected silver medals in Gi and No-Gi in the 13-year-old division, and her brother Banyan eared a silver in No-Gi and a bronze in Gi.

The Ward family, which normally trains at a gym in Denver, plans to make trips to Las Vegas and Sacramento later this year to compete in more large tournaments.

"It's very rewarding, and it's makes me really proud that my children have been able to take on such a difficult sport and do it with such ease," Ward said.

Students show top form, earn national rankings

A pair of students from the Rocky Mountain Karate Academy in Steamboat Springs shined at the U.S. Karate Alliance Nationals, which were held March 15 to 17 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and are now ranked among the country's best in the art of Kata, or forms.

Twelve-year-old Sloane Speer placed first in Kata and then was named grand champion for earning the most points in her age division. She is currently ranked fourth in the nation in her age division.

Fellow Academy student Ryan Andrew, 11, earned first place in Kumite, or sparring, and third place in Kata. He is currently ranked fifth in the nation in his age division.

“It’s something that I’m really happy that they did,” sensi Kyle Olson said. “Most of the students that went came in and did extra training, so they definitely put a lot to time aside to make sure it happen.”

Other top finishers from Steamboat at the national competition included 8-year-old Jacob Andrew, who placed second in Kumite and third in Kata, and 11-year-old Layla Hammond-Furst, who was third in Kumite.

Hammond-Furst, Ryan and Jacob Andrew also teamed up to compete in the team Kata event.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.