Two Sparta athletes recently traveled to Salzburg, Austria, to compete in the 2021 Martial Arts World Games, and they are bringing home some hardware to show off.
Dani Auberger, 20, and Elyse Webster, 12, are athletes at Bushido Karate Center, in Sparta, and they both earned multiple gold medals at this year’s World Games, a feat to be respected in any year, but especially in this year, considering the extra effort needed to remain focused on their goals throughout the difficulties a worldwide pandemic can cause.
“It has been an emotional and mental roller coaster for these athletes to navigate,” Coach Rachel Auberger, who trains both girls on a daily basis, said. “Originally, they tried out for spots to represent their national teams at the World Karate/Kickboxing World Championships that was supposed to be held in Montreal, Canada. Then the championships were moved to Orlando, Florida, and then canceled all together.”
According to Rachel Auberger, the complications had to do with the ability of enough nations to be able to enter foreign countries because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions.
“In July, when the championships were canceled, it was disappointing, and the girls were both kind of unsure of what they would be doing with the rest of their season,” she said. “Then the opportunity for World Games was presented.”
Europe allows inter-country travel for other European countries and restricted travel for Americans that includes testing, COVID-19 verification, and quarantines. But, when presented with the possibility of attending, Rachel Auberger said that both girls were eager to do whatever it took to get to the games.
“These athletes are amazing. They stayed focused through the entire process, training multiple hours each day,” Rachel Auberger said. “They put in long hours, sometimes unsure if they would actually even have the opportunity to step on the mats and test their skills in competition.”
On top of the travel ups and downs, Dani Auberger had a major setback when she was injured in a national event in the early summer months.
“Dani’s injury was concerning,” Rachel Auberger said about the injury that the athlete unable to put weight on her left leg for weeks. “We weren’t sure if she would be able to compete, but she herself never doubted it. She just kept working in therapy and on her own to find a way to stay sharp, stay focused, and heal enough to be cleared for competition.”
With clearance for Dani Auberger coming just two weeks before the Games were scheduled to kick off, both athletes, along with their coach and families, were cleared to travel to Austria.
While Dani Auberger had been to the World Games before, this was the first trip to an international-level competition for Webster. The magnitude of the event did not overwhelm her, and she stepped up to the challenge placed in front of her.
“I am so proud of Elyse,” her coach, Rachel Auberger, said.
Rachel Auberger said that, at just 12 years old, Webster had shown amazing focus throughout the months of preparation, which had begun in February.
“She put in so much work to be able to get here,” Rachel Auberger said. “To be this young and be able to focus on goals she set for herself for such a long period of time, and under such chaotic circumstances, shows that she has the ability to go as far as she wants in this sport – or in anything she chooses to do. She put herself in a position to win this week, and, when her moment came, she kept her nerves in check and stepped out on those mats and executed what she had practiced.”
Webster is bringing home four gold medals, one silver, and one bronze from her first trip to the World Games.
Dani Auberger went into the games with big expectations, having been there before and having medaled in the past. She was a familiar face at the games, and that could have been a distraction if she had allowed it.
“Dani’s ability to focus under any circumstance might be one of her biggest talents,” her coach said. “From the time she was really young, she could set a goal and know exactly what she had to do to accomplish it. That hasn’t changed. So, while she continually had athletes coming up to her for a picture, or to say hello, or to ‘catch up,’ she was able to compartmentalize those things and then switch back into competition-mode when necessary.
“Her injury was also apparent, at least to those of us who knew. There were times when I know she was continuing on pure adrenaline and sheer will to win – or maybe it was a refusal to lose – either way, it was not because she was physically at 100 percent.”
Dani Auberger, like Webster, is bringing home plenty of hardware from the competition as proof that goal setting, focus, and determination are an athlete’s strongest attributes. She will come home with eight gold medals, one silver medal, and one bronze medal.
“These two athletes are excellent role models – whether for athletes in our training center or just kids in our community,” Rachel Auberger said. “They are proof that hard work is rewarded, that determination and focus and a willingness to pursue excellence can result in big things, whatever your goal. We are proud of them. We are proud to have them not just as athletes from our center, but as part of our community here in Sparta.”