At first glance, 13-year-old KAYLA WIENBECK is a typical eighth grade student at Bon Lin Middle. Involved in several organizations, Kayla is an honor student, student ambassador, and member of Beta Club, among others. However, the exceptional pupil not only devotes time to her studies, she is also a locally and nationally ranked jujitsu competitor.
In 2009, Kayla’s parents wanted to help her older brother Tyler find a sport to keep him active in the football offseason. The family stopped in a gym one day to check out classes, and they came across jujitsu. Kayla, then just six-years-old, decided she wanted to give it a shot. Over the past eight years, she has trained hard to become a nationally ranked jujitsu fighter, and she just recently won the Gold Medal at the Kids Pan Am in Long Beach, Calif. on February 19, 2017. She competes against other teens (ages 13-15) and even goes head-to-head against boys her age as well. Having competed in more than 40 tournaments over the past eight years, Kayla has made a name for herself in the sport and considers it a part of her life and an extension of who she is.
“IT’S ALWAYS GOING TO BE HARD AT FIRST, BUT IF IT’S SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO YOU, YOU WILL FIND WAYS TO WORK HARD TO MAKE YOURSELF A BETTER PERSON AND ATHLETE.”
Despite being a studious eighth-grader, Kayla manages to fit in many hours of training every week. After school, she heads home to do homework and study for tests, and then it’s time for the gym. The teen trains around two hours per day, 4-6 days a week, depending on her tournament schedule. After her gym session, she returns home to finish any other schoolwork and head to bed before repeating it the next day.
Kayla trains at Memphis Judo and Jiu-Jitsu on Stage Road, and she also works out and runs at the Bartlett Recreational Center. She initially began training with Nathan Pang, Alex Meadows, and Blake Smythe but now works with Joel Gingery and Kayla Patterson. The teen says, “Both Joel and Kayla have taught me how to grow in the sport and keep my head held high both on and off the mat.” While many of her peers spend their free time doing fun activities, Kayla says she would rather be at the gym training. “It’s the one place I can go and always leave in a positive, good mood. It pushes me to work harder and achieve bigger and better goals.”
In order to stay on track with her training, Kayla watches what she eats, especially during tournament preparation. However, she admits to loving pizza, especially from Milano’s. While it can be difficult to balance training, school, and academics, her advice to other people her age is to, “keep at it.” “It’s always going to be hard at first, but if it’s something important to you, you will find ways to work hard to make yourself a better person and athlete.”
By Christin Yates. Photo by Sarah McAlexander.