The opportunity presented itself, the time, place and circumstances coalescing at the right instant. For Alaina Wallock, a 16-year-old beginning to taste success, it was a defining moment of a burgeoning career on the North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) tournament circuit.
Wallock had reached overtime of the championship sparring match in her group, 16-17 Tall, at the U.S. Open tournament in Orlando in late June. The No. 1-ranked girl in the nation stood across from her. Normally a measured, calculating competitor, Wallock threw caution aside and made her move.
Her foe was Isabella Caracta of New York, a budding superstar in the world of competitive karate, complete with sponsors, travel budget and an entourage. She had defeated Wallock in past competitions and figured this would be a lock. Yet here they were, with Caracta rallying late just to get the match to overtime, a sudden-death setup.
Next point — a punch that connects, a kick that lands in the scoring area — wins.
This had already been the best season of Wallock’s young karate career.
As an 8-year-old, she gave up gymnastics to concentrate on karate and advanced quickly.
“My brother Brendon was in karate before me,” Wallock said. “He was getting all of these achievements and advancing and everything. I wanted to get trophies and compete.”
With her brother as her guide and a natural ability to focus and process information, she earned her black belt three years later, a year ahead of the usual timeline. As she grew taller, she stood out among her peers. She’s been 5-11 for more than a year, giving her an advantage over much smaller opponents.
“I’ve never competed against anyone taller than me,” she said. “Before a tournament last year, people walked up to see how tall they were compared to me, then walked back and tried to figure out a strategy. I found it really funny.”
“She peaked early,” said her mother, Nancy. “We had people at tournaments question how old she was.”
In some cases, skepticism was such that proof was required. “I had to bring a passport and an ID and say, ‘I really am 13 years old,’ ” Wallock recalled.
With her height giving her a decided advantage, Wallock traveled to a competition in Evansville, Ind., last March and walked out with a No. 2 ranking in the NASKA world rankings for her age group and a prime spot on Team USA.
Wallock, a junior at Blaine High School, and Colton Fair, 15, a sophomore-to-be at Armstrong, both train at the National Karate studio in Crystal. They will represent the U.S. at the World Kickboxing & Karate Union World Championships in Killarney, Ireland, at the end of August. Wallock goes in ranked No. 2 in her age group, 16-17, in the NASKA world rankings.
“Her genetics help,” said Ron Tobin, her sparring coach. “She’s tall and able to be versatile. She’s good with her legs just as deftly as with her hands. She’s starting to blossom into what she can be.”
‘Biggest victory [of] career’
Overtime began and, for a second or two, Wallock and Caracta danced, feeling each other out.
Wallock attacked first, snaking out a long leg just ahead of her opponent’s. She brought it down on top of Caracta’s leg, fending off the attack, then ended the match with a scoring back-fist punch.
Caracta, the far-and-away points leader in the national rankings, was stunned.
Per karate custom, Wallock waited until judges officially awarded her the match-winning point, then hugged everyone she could find.
“That’s when the emotions came out,” she said. “It was, ‘Oh my gosh, I just beat the No. 1-ranked person.’ ”
Her day wasn’t over, however. Two hours later she overcame nerves and a lengthy wait to defeat the competitor in the other half of the 16-17 bracket to earn the title of Grand Champion.
“I’ve taken second before, but I’ve never beat the No. 1-ranked fighter and I’ve never won Grand Champion before,” Wallock said.
“It was the biggest victory of my career. By a lot.”
While she’s booked and set to head to Ireland in late August, there’s still the matter of affording the trip. She and Fair, who will be competing in the boys’ sparring division for 14-15-year-olds, have set up GoFundMe pages to help offset the cost.
Alaina’s is www.gofundme.com/help-team-usa-win-gold-in-ireland. Fair’s is www.gofundme.com/usa-team-ireland-trip-for-colton.
According to Tobin, who still competes in men’s divisions, Wallock has a chance to finish high.
“She’s thinking faster, she has that faster tempo,” he said. “It’s all about confidence and what happens when you’re confident.”