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The desire to be a U.S. Olympic athlete burns hot in the heart of a Chickasaw woman

MOORE, Okla. – The desire to be a U.S. Olympic athlete burns hot in the heart of a Chickasaw woman.

When the Olympic torch ignites the cauldron at the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, it will be the full embodiment of a spark planted in the mind of seven-year-old Kayla Chappell. The spark has been simmering 14 years now.

The work to turn it into a roaring flame is just beginning.

Just before Thanksgiving, Ms. Chappell pulled up stakes, said goodbye to loved ones and friends, took a last look at the city that has been home for 21 years and headed northwest.

Waiting for her was the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and that spark – to be one of 14 members on the U.S. Olympic Judo team with an opportunity to compete for gold.

Training, learning, living and traveling to tournaments worldwide is a full-time job itself.

But Ms. Chappell plans to attend the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, find a job, and share an apartment with another judo competitor while pushing herself to win enough tournaments to be among the top 14 in the world, which equates to an Olympic Summer Games berth.

Qualifying tournaments begin in June.

"Basically, I have two years to win enough tournaments and earn enough points to be ranked in the top 14," Ms. Chappell said.

To make life even more challenging for the Chickasaw woman is the fact all of the qualifying tournaments are overseas -- except one.

"I'll be doing a lot of international traveling," she said.

When she and her parents, Curt and Kim Chappell, put pencil to paper to figure out the cost of all this, the figure was over $40,000 per year. No one will be hanging a price tag on Ms. Chappell's quest for greatness, but nobody is arguing frequent flyer miles will not be welcome, either.

Until the decision to move to Colorado, Ms. Chappell was a pre-med student at Oklahoma City University. She credits the Chickasaw Nation with funding every penny of her higher education at Oklahoma City Community College and at OCU.

"The Nation has been great to me and I appreciate it very much," she said.

Her goal, aside from winning a gold medal as a U.S. Olympian, is to work as a physician's assistant or physical therapist specializing in sports-related injuries.

She is a Chickasaw citizen, as is her father, who owns and operates a construction company in the Oklahoma City metro area.

The petite 21-year-old twisted arms of foes at an Irving, Texas, competition in November. She competed in the 57-kilo division (about 125 pounds). She was ranked No. 1 in the nation two years ago in the 52-kilo weight class (about 114 pounds) but an injury sidelined her for more than a year.

"If you don't compete for a year, all your points go away," she said.

She does not mind starting anew. She has challenged herself and established goals. Each competition is a step toward attaining them.

Aside from judo competition, Ms. Chappell's personal Facebook page shows she is a typical 21-year-old who enjoys friends, family and fun. But her Facebook page also has a serious edge to it when it comes to competition.

"The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand," her own quote proclaims.

"I love competition," Ms. Chappell said. "It's just in my blood. It is a thrill to compete and to succeed at goals you've set for yourself."


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