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Illness doesn't deter karate champion

| Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009

Winning a world title in the Sport Karate World Games is a significant accomplishment. It's even more impressive when the winner gets sick before, during and after the competition.

That's what happened to Alison Viola of North Huntingdon earlier this month in Sacramento, Calif., when she won the lightweight title in what is considered the most widely publicized and prestigious sport karate event in the world.

Viola, 16, is a dedicated three-sport athlete -- she plays soccer and softball at Norwin High School -- and she was prepared to win another karate title to match the featherweight crown she collected in the same event in 2006.

When she started to warm up for the competition, however, she had a problem.

"I was warming up and just wasn't feeling very well," Viola said. "I told my brother (Bill, her coach), but went on."

It turns out she was suffering from stomach flu, and she vomited four or five times in between fights. She even had to take a timeout during one fight.

Undaunted, she never gave into the sickness, defeating 2007 world champion Ashlee Grant of California and beating Tracy Farnes of Colorado in the finals. She's the only female athlete from Western Pennsylvania to win an National Black Belt League (NBL) world title.

Two of her training partners -- brothers Billy Leader, 17, and Dominic Leader, 15 -- also competed in the Games. Billy Leader placed third at the Games in the light-heavy division, despite breaking his kneecap during the eliminations. Another training partner, Charlie Slie, did not make the trip.

The Super Grands, as the competition is also known, culminates after a seasonlong series of qualifying championships that rank and seed competitors.

Viola knows about the grind after competing in the event since 2005 and winning in the featherweight division in 2006.

To prepare for the 2008 event, she kept busy in a variety of activities. She said she trained six days a week at her father's Allegheny Shotokon Karate Club in North Huntingdon, played goaltender for the soccer team and shortstop for the softball team at Norwin. She also participated on traveling soccer and softball teams.

"As soon as high school soccer season is over (in the fall), I start getting more focused because I know Super Grands are normally two months away," said Viola, who is 5-foot-8, 141 pounds.

After winning the title, Viola said she will not take off any time to recharge.

"No, I'll pretty much go straight into the indoor soccer season and then get ready for the softball season in the spring," Viola said. "I normally don't sit around too much, just to do homework."

And maybe to admire her second world championship title trophy.

Viola expressed gratitude to her sponors, the Eckert Seamans Law Firm and the Western PA Police Athletic League.

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