By Caradh O’Donovan
Last weekend hundreds of junior athletes came from all corners of Ireland to compete in the National Kickboxing Championships for Cadets & Juniors in Citywest, Dublin. As always the competition was fierce, with both the winner and runner-up in each category qualifying to represent Ireland at the WAKO European Kickboxing Championships this September. WAKO is the World Federation for the sport of Kickboxing and Kickboxing Ireland is the recognised body in this country by Sport Ireland. Ireland has a growing pool of talent from the Pee Wee categories (Under 8 years) right through to the Junior age groups (16-18 years) and with the sports administrators actively pursuing Olympic recognition, it’s looking very likely that Ireland will have some serious contenders on the global stage once this recognition has been achieved. One particular athlete that stands out amongst the winners last weekend was eighteen year old Tola Adebisi. Tola secured her tenth National Kickboxing Title, with her first coming many years ago at the age of seven! A native of Bray, Co. Wicklow Tola has been training in kickboxing since she was just six years old and amazingly has been selected for the National Irish Kickboxing Team for eleven years – she finished in first place at the National Championships for ten years with the other year in second place.
When starting kickboxing Tola joined her local Club in Bray where she learned the basics and fundamentals of kickboxing and got a taste of the many different styles of kickboxing – from musical forms to point fighting. Her passion however was for Point Fighting and from there she made the decision to join a Kickboxing Club further away from home where she could have access to travelling to many international competitions. “I really wanted to compete internationally and I knew Tallaght Martial Arts travelled to all the big tournaments” she recalls. “I knew Tallaght Martial Arts was a big fighting Club so that’s when we made the decision to join”. Tallaght Martial Arts has been operating for many years now led by Dave Heffernan and Martin Bannon. The Club has had much success over the years and boasts numerous World and European Champions at both Junior and Senior Level. Tola’s win at the Nationals as well her latest Podium finish at the biggest World Cup in Kickboxing last month is testament to the clubs continued success. Last weekend this Club in Tallaght secured a whopping twenty five places on the Irish Kickboxing Team for it’s young members and will now look ahead to the WAKO Junior European Championships in Macedonia this September. On Tola’s remarkable achievement last weekend, coach Dave Heffernan hails her win as brilliant. “Tola is an amazing talent and such a great athlete to coach. She has performed consistently at the highest level of our sport for years and her achievement on winning another national title is just brilliant”.
As I speak to Tola on her success I learn she is just back home from a Hockey match representing Bray Hockey Club. They were taking part in the Leinster Cup Final and although narrowly beaten that day her team have gone from strength to strength by starting the league in bottom position and are now up to fourth place. Not only a world class Kickboxer with National Titles spilling out of her ears, she is a talented Hockey player and furthermore is a World Champion Power Lifter. Last year Tola became World Champion in Power Lifting and holds the World record for the Squat in her weight category. “I competed in the World Championships in Wales last year and I got the record for my squat; I squatted 88kg in the T2 category (-55.5kg weight category) which is the world record and I have a PB of 90kg” she modestly informs me.
So with so many possible sporting avenues for this unassuming young athlete, what’s next for her? With this year being Tola’s final year as a Junior athlete, she intends to focus fully on the European Kickboxing Championships over the next few months and give her goal of winning this title her best shot. She also intends to start her preparation for entry into the senior ranks of kickboxing and will look to compete internationally after these Championships at the Bristol Open in October. Of course it is tough as the cost of representing her country at these Championships fall completely on her and her family. The European Championships can cost in the region of €1500 per athlete and this is always a challenge for young kickboxers. “It’s definitely a reason I don’t travel to as much international competitions as I would like to and unfortunately I don’t have any sponsors or funding at the moment” says Tola. Kickboxing Ireland receives absolutely zero High Performance Funding from Sport Ireland and as such they find it difficult to fund any of their world class athletes; the tab is picked up by the athletes and families themselves and their costs include flights, accommodation, tracksuits, competition entry fees as well as medical and physio costs and other training related costs.
As well as preparing for the upcoming WAKO European Kickboxing Championships, Tola is currently studying for her Leaving Certificate and is as ambitious in this area as she is her sporting ambitions. “I would love to go to UCD (University College Dublin) and maybe study Nursing or Sociology” she enthuses. “I’ve had to do a little bit more gym work and HIIT sessions near home with the Leaving Cert coming up rather than travelling to Tallaght every night”. She will of course be back to intense training in Tallaght Martial Arts shortly after her exams to join up with the many national team members in her club, many of whom have become her closest friends. “We’re a proper fam” she remarks. Let’s hope Tola and her club mates do the business in the WAKO Junior European Kickboxing Championships this September where she will be looking to add another major medal to her haul.