Fighting like a girl

EVART — It isn’t always easy for a 13-year-old girl to build strength and confidence, but two gold medals in martial arts have changed Larae Roberds, 13, of Barryton, from a timid girl to one who can — and will — protect herself.

“We started her out when she was 5 years old with a family friend and she just continued on,” said Dana Roberds, Larae’s mother. “She competed when she was about 7 years old for the first time and got her first taste of the medal. With some other instances that have happened, she has really focused on Tae Kwon Do. We told her, ‘It’s all about you. If you want it, go get it.’ She’s been really encouraged and really focused on it.”

Larae studies at Mozden Tae Kwon Do in downtown Evart, where Jerry Mozden has been helping her develop for eight years.

“She’s a good fighter for her age,” Mozden said. “She’s quick. She’s gotten a lot faster and she’s a lot tougher with her movement.”

In October 2012, Larae won at the Great Lakes Open Championships in Grand Rapids, earning a spot on Team America, the United States Martial Arts team. She was invited to the World Martial Arts Games in Dublin, Ireland, which were held on Aug. 9, 10 and 11.

“It was kind of nerve-racking, but really exciting,” Larae said, adding that she won two gold medals and now holds two world titles for girls ages 12 to 14 in continuous fighting and point sparring.

Team America took home 80 medals at the games, with 75 people on the team.

“The tournament itself was just an incredible thing,” said Sean Roberds, Larae’s father. “The competition ranged from the under belts, which is what she was in, to the black belts. It was some of the most incredible fighting I have ever seen.”

Since martial arts is a more popular sport for males, Larae fought mostly boys, who usually hesitate until they see she can hit, Sean said.

“It’s really hard because she is a girly girl, and I’m a girly girl,” Dana said. “It’s exciting to put her in (the ring) in the pink, and they are all in the black. I tell her, ‘Fight like a girl, Larae.’

“She has herself psyched out when she steps into the ring,” Dana continued. “They are just a competitor, not a boy or a girl. They are usually friends before they go in, and they are friends when they come out.”

Larae and her younger brother, Justin, who also is a martial artist, spar together.

“If he is bothering me just a tiny bit, then I don’t hit him,” Larae explained. “But if he is bothering me to the point that I want to grab his neck and shake him around, then we fight.”

Even though they don’t always get along, Larae said she enjoys her brother’s company.

“Although he is a pain in the butt sometimes, he’s really nice to have,” she said. “He’s playful, funny and I really love my little brother.”

Going to Ireland was not cheap, and the family fundraised to afford to send Larae and Sean to the games.

“It started at a gas station,” Larae said of the fundraising efforts. “My dad does sign logos and he has a company called Advanced Art. He makes a lot of decals and signs for people’s cars and other stuff. He made a little box with a picture of me and my Grand Rapids trophy on it and wrote how I am going to the World Martial Arts Games on the box, and the first day almost all of the decals were gone, plus there was so much money in there, it was overflowing.”

She also enjoys support from friends at school.

“When I came back from Ireland my friend Alex and I were walking around in school and every single time somebody walked by he said, ‘Hey, she can kick your butt any time,’” Larae recalled. “And I said, ‘No, I won’t do that.’”

Larae has her green belt now and plans to earn her black belt.

“I want to go as far as possible,” she said. “I might even do it until I’m a person who is extremely old.”

Larae hopes to compete in the U.S. Open World Martial Arts Championship, held at the Disney Complex in Orlando, in the summer of 2014.

Visit bigrapidsnews.com to watch a video of Larae practicing martial arts at Mozden Tae Kwon Do.