Karate champ wins at worlds

Bernadette Alvarez from Nanaimo’s Shima Karate School became Canada’s first IKGA world karate champion.

Nanaimo’s Bernadette Alvarez

Nanaimo’s Bernadette Alvarez

Bernadette Alvarez made ‘O Canada’ happen at the world championships this month.

Never before had the Canadian anthem been played in a medal ceremony at the International Karate-do Goju-kai Association world championships. But the teen from Nanaimo’s Shima Karate School beat all comers on the sparring mats in Mumbai, India, and got to ascend to the top of the podium as Canada’s first IKGA world champ.

Originally from the Philippines, there was some question of whether Alvarez would even be allowed to compete for Canada. She was, she did. She earned gold; she earned the anthem.

“Everyone’s looking at me; I’m like, well, shoot, I’m supposed to sing. Thank God they didn’t have a mike,” she joked. “I think that part was a bit more terrifying than fighting an Iranian girl.”

Alvarez beat opponents from Australia, South Africa and India to reach the final, where she was matched up against an Iranian.

“Iran was pretty good but she just couldn’t figure out Bernadette’s game plan,” said Kurt Nordli, Shima sensei, who accompanied his pupil on the trip. “What she did well was mixed up her game plan. She didn’t do the same thing twice.”

Alvarez, amid the frenzy of fists and quantity of kicks, hardly noticed, at first, that she was building a lead.

OK… OK… all right, she thought to herself as the points piled up, and she didn’t relent.

“When she threw that last side thrust kick and I saw two flags go out, it made it all worthwhile, it really did…” said Nordli. “It was quite the moment.”

The sportsmanlike Alvarez resisted jumping up and down, but she was ecstatic.

“I was grinning so much right after that my cheekbones hurt,” she said.

Earlier at the competition, she had won a silver medal in forms, so really, the world championships could hardly have been better. It was exciting, Alvarez said, to compete in an international event and see, for example, the 200-member South African contingent march into the stadium. With more than 1,000 athletes from 32 countries gathered, even a world champ could pick up some pointers.

“It was cool; you get to see other ways of doing things,” Alvarez said.

She had fun, too, trading pins and trinkets. She made new friends, though she missed everyone at Shima while she was away at worlds making them proud.

“It really helps bring the club to another level, just for the kids to realize that if anyone wants to do it, they can,” Nordli said. “They just need to follow the path, train hard, work hard. Someone beside you has done it. It’s not some dream of someone in another place. It’s someone from our dojo.”