Jiu-jitsu kid tiny, but mighty
She might be tiny but she sure packs a mighty punch.
Seven-year-old Ashley Nesbitt from Blockhouse Bay in West Auckland has qualified for the 2014 Kids World International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championship in the United States in July.
And she is sure to put up a good fight.
The shy youngster is one of the smallest jiu-jitsu fighters in New Zealand at the moment and is used to being underestimated.
She started martial arts training less than two years ago and has been packing a punch ever since, her mum Fiona says.
"She's so quiet by nature and I think that's the overwhelming thing. People see her before a match and think 'how cute' but when she steps out on the mat she comes out of her shell.
"She's dynamic. It's where she belongs."
The determined youngster is the middle child of five siblings who all practice martial arts.
The worlds will be Ashley's first time away from home and out of New Zealand.
"I'm kind of nervous but excited," she says. "I like winning. I'm going there to try and win."
She started gymnastics before she was 5 alongside her two older sisters and quickly rose to the top of the class, until she was selected for the New Zealand elite training squad.
But the family had to make a tough decision when the $200 monthly fees kicked in.
"It's hard to hear as a parent, these world-class coaches saying she was phenomenal but we just couldn't afford it.
"At the end of the day she wasn't really enjoying it either. So we started looking at other options for her," Fiona says.
Ashley now holds three national titles and will be competing again next month on June 14 - her 8th birthday.
Her two older sisters also compete and her younger brother and sister are just getting started with the family sport.
It is a special bond, Fiona says.
"We see what goes on behind the scenes and they don't ever really stop training. Every parent thinks their kids are amazing - but it's not just natural talent, it's the hard work they put in as well."
The sport has taught her children self-confidence, respect, humility and how to lose gracefully, Fiona says.
At the same time it is a set of practical skills, she says.
"In this day and age, I'm a strong believer that all girls should know how to protect themselves.
"If they ever needed to, they could. That's just priceless for me."
Coach Steve Oliver says Ashley has what it takes to get to the top.
He has watched her transform during the months practising the martial art, he says.
"She's just a real natural. She's quite shy and quiet and then through jiu-jitsu she has just become so confident. It's not uncommon with kids here.
"She just backs herself 200 per cent."
The family is fundraising to get Ashley to the United States to compete this year. Contact Oliver on 021 239 2896 to find out how to contribute.
- Central Leader