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Karate girl kicks her way to third-degree black belt

Follows dream despite foot amputations
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Kate Wilmarth considers it no big deal if she can’t do every single “insane, flippy-trick thing” that some of her fellow martial artists can do.

“It’s OK if you’re not able to do things because not everyone can do everything,” she says.

But the 17-year-old Granite Bay High School senior can do a lot. She can perform a series of rapid fire round kicks, front kicks, tornado kicks, round-offs and more. The martial arts aficionado is currently practicing for her third-degree black belt.

Kate Wilmarth, an athletic young woman with big brown eyes and braces, does some things a little differently than her karate peers.

Wilmarth is a bilateral foot amputee, who lost her feet shortly after birth following a medical mishap. She often wears prosthetics, but typically avoids these devices during karate.

“When I kick, the right one flies off,” she says.

As Wilmarth continues her love for the sport, she also participates in performance demonstrations with A Touch of Understanding, a Granite Bay-based nonprofit organization that provides disability awareness and promotes acceptance and respect of all people.

“Kate serves as an inspiration to us all,” says A Touch of Understanding volunteer coordinator Susie Glover. “She proves if you want it and you dream about it there’s nothing that’s going to stop you from achieving your goal.”

About 10 years ago, Kate Wilmarth attended a talent show at her school where students were entertained by karate performances. She took a karate class and has been hooked ever since. She attends Kovar’s Satori Academy of Martial Arts in Granite Bay.

“The environment is like my second family,” she says.

As for her blood relatives, her dad Steve competed in Ironman Triathlons and mom Kris was on the U.S. national swim team at 16 years old and competed in the Olympic trials.

“We have athletic genes in this family,” Steve Wilmarth says. “I’m very appreciative of all the hard work it takes to achieve this (black-belt) level. She’s very dedicated.”

Kate Wilmarth earned her first-degree black belt in seventh grade and second-degree in ninth grade.

“My greatest accomplishment other than receiving my second-degree black belt is qualifying for the finals for the Golden State Karate Association and being asked to perform in their night show,” she says.

In 1994, a few days after her birth, Kate Wilmarth contracted a staph infection from a non-sterile needle used at the doctor’s office. Bacteria invaded her feet and her legs turned black up to her knee caps. Her parents rushed her to the emergency room.

But it was too late.

“(My feet) just died and they cut them off,” she says.

Because she was so young, she didn’t experience the devastation felt by her parents when their daughter lost her feet, she says.

“I just always grew up like this and this is how I learned to walk,” she says.

She learned how to do a lot more than that. In fifth grade, volunteers with A Touch of Understanding visited her school. Kate Wilmarth shared her story with the group’s speakers, who encouraged her to showcase her martial arts abilities to the public.

Those abilities are also on private display in her bedroom, which boasts dozens of ribbons and trophies from karate competitions. She competes against all ranks, all ages in the handicap division.

She now practices four days a week, including two hours every Saturday throughout the summer to prepare for her third-degree black belt trial, which will be held Aug. 27.

When Kate Wilmarth isn’t consumed with martial arts, she enjoys spending time with friends. She also knits, plays the piano and hangs out at Folsom Lake.

Martial arts is still a priority, although not as much as it once was now that she’s focused on the future, thinking about college and potential career paths. But karate will always have a special place in her heart.

“It was really fun at the beginning and I was really into it” she says. “I still am, obviously.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series on young people who overcame great odds to do amazing things. Check out the June 25 issue of the Press Tribune for the third article. Visit www.rosevillept.com for the first article on dancer Dacia Biletnikoff.