NORMAN — The petite, brunette young woman with a bright smile behind the counter at Norman’s Auto Valet car wash hardly looks like a judo champion working to get to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
But 21-year-old Kayla Chappell, of Moore, has been on several world teams and is moving to Colorado Springs, Colo., in about two weeks to train at the state-of-the-art U.S. Olympic Training Complex.
Chappell first began training in judo when she was 7. The judo black belt trains with two-time Olympian Patrick Burris and his wife, Kristi Burris, an Olympic team runner-up, at the USA Stars gym in Moore.
“I was a little girl with a big bow,” she said. “I wanted to do wrestling because I have all brothers. I loved grappling and wrestling.”
But there was no place on a wrestling team for a young girl. Judo was another matter.
Chappell spends two to four hours five or six days a week at the gym, when she’s not studying as a pre-med student at Oklahoma City Community College — although she’s taking a semester off to further her Olympic dream.
“You don’t have a normal life,” said Bronte Dake, Chappell’s training partner, best friend and roommate, referring to Chappell’s focus and dedication in the gym.
Chappell has been the top-ranked judo athlete in the country several years in the 52-kilo weight class, which translates to about 114 pounds. She now competes in the 57-kilo weight class, about 126 pounds. Chappell competed on two junior world teams in 2010 and 2011, competed in the adult world championships as a teenager and has dozens of trophies and medals.
Chappell has been looking for a job in Colorado to help support her quest, but the sport requires about $40,000 to $50,000 a year for traveling the world to compete and earn points that will qualify her to be on the U.S. Olympic team. She has competed in cities ranging from Rotterdam, Netherlands, to Cape Town, South Africa.