Tennessee Valley’s Karate Kid not letting wheelchair get in the way of gold

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — One Rossville 11-year-old is overcoming his disabilities with karate. In fact, he’s won eight consecutive gold medals — most recently at the U.S. Karate Open in Las Vegas.

Joel Westbrook has not allowed his disability to limit his dreams. The secret is never saying “I can’t.” It’s actually banned in the dojo.

Westbrook wanted to be just like the characters on Disney’s karate show, Kickin’ It. There was just one problem — Joel was born with spina bifida.

“He had it in his mind that he wanted to do karate,” Joel’s mom, Wendy, said. “I was like ‘No, no let’s don’t do karate, what else can we do? No.’ But just ‘Karate, karate, karate.’ So, he stuck with it.”

And it stuck with him. Joel beat a 30-year-old in Las Vegas April 1 for the gold at the U.S. Karate Open.

Sensei Corey Green helps Joel learn karate movements and adapt them to his wheelchair.

“I even got in the chair one day and tried it, and boy, does he have talent,” Green said. “I tried it and I was like ‘Man, it’s really hard to make this chair straight when you want it to go straight.'”

Joel joins Ryan Rogers, a renowned autistic karate athlete from Green’s dojo.

“There are no limitations,” Rogers said. “Don’t ever look at age, don’t ever look at disabilities as limited. That was my little hurdle a while back. I said you know what, I did all these things, and I can still do that.”

Sensei Green sees his students as heroes to look up to.

“They’re inspiring people that make them believe in themselves no matter what you have going on in your life, you can accomplish great things,” Green said. “You just have to have that perseverance and determination and discipline to follow through.”

The next big goal is Paris in 2024, where karate is expected to make its Para-Olympic debut.

“I guess 2024 in Paris, that would put that French class to good use that I took in high school, right?” Wendy said.

Wendy said she picked the name Joel because it means strong-willed, and that Joel has definitely lived up to his name.

Categories: Chattanooga, Featured, Hamilton County, Local News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *