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.
“My parents have been so supportive of me,” she said. “They have done everything they can to help make whatever dreams I have come true.”
Chappell is seeking sponsors to help defray the expenses required to make the Olympic team. Many Auto Valet Car Wash customers have chipped in to help, and Seth Wadley Ford is a consistent supporter.
She plans to promote her sponsors by putting logo patches on her gi, or judo uniform, and by making a T-shirt with patches. Chappell also is developing a website and has a Facebook page to update friends and family on her progress.
One of the hardest things about making the move to Colorado is leaving behind teammates she’s known since she started training and the Burrises.
“I have grown up with sensai Pat and sensai Kristi. They are like my second parents,” Chappell said. “(Patrick Burris) always told me, ‘You be the first one (at the gym) and the last to leave.’”
She said she hopes to have lots of visitors from her Oklahoma gym in Colorado.
“I’ll always have space on my couch for anyone who comes to Colorado,” she said.
Chappell plans to give back in any way she can.
“I want to be able to give back to everyone who has helped me and be a good role model,” she said.
She has some advice for aspiring judo athletes.
“Follow your dreams and don’t give up,” Chappell said. “Do what makes you happy.”
Those interested in helping sponsor Chappell can reach her at 640-2852 or email email@example.com.