It’s that time of year already. The buzz of back-to-school bustle is everywhere. It’s hard to believe how quickly summer has flown, again, for everyone. For Athena Allen, transitioning back means an adjustment to a somewhat more laid-back pace of life again.
Don’t be deceived. School days for Athena are anything but relaxed. The exceptional martial artist and World Karate Association Unified World Championships gold medalist somehow manages to juggle rigorous AP classes, swim team, playing the cello in the school orchestra, and singing as part of the top choir comprised of just 14 students at Silver Creek; and, she does so with what appears on the outside to be supreme balance. Perhaps it’s best not to ask about sleep, but rest assured she keeps conscious of the need to fit that in, however creatively and efficiently, too.
The school year may be busy, but the structure of it provides a sort of satisfying relief. Throughout this past summer, the focused Silver Creek Junior was continuously on the go as counselor-in-training for a local horse camp, competitive swimming with swim club at Rally Sport, and martial arts tournaments. Lots and lots of tournaments. “During the school year, I’ll typically compete in tournaments about once a month,” Athena says. “This summer it was more than that. A lot more, actually. Most weekends I’d have something; it’s been a lot of travel. So, going back to school feels almost like kind of a break.”
Athena began studying martial arts at the age of five, after attending a birthday party at a local martial arts studio. She recalls feeling hesitant at first, but when she got on the mat she just loved it. It soon became clear that talent and ability matched her interest. Over the years, Athena’s dedication grew alongside her skills. At age eleven, she came to one of many pivotal points where she had to step back and take stock of priorities. Even as a young child, Athena made it clear she was not one to take on anything halfhearted. As a middle schooler, she had earned a place on a competitive soccer team. As much as she longed to, she knew she couldn’t do both soccer and karate to the level she wanted. Ultimately, it was karate that pulled with the stronger call. “It’s very empowering,” Athena says. “There are all these stereotypes around being a girl. I was never actively fighting those, but I always felt more of a tomboy. I thrived on strength.”
From her first martial arts class, Athena steadily increased time spent practicing in increments. Two 30-minute classes a week became three to four lessons a week, building to three to four nights, three to four hours each night training and also teaching others, by the time she was twelve years old. All the hard training certainly paid off, to say the least. By the time she was a sophomore in high school, Athena had won five Colorado state titles and seven national championships while competing in the North American Sport Karate Association circuit.
In 2016, Athena took competition to a new, even more breathtaking level, representing Team USA at the World Karate Association Unified World Championships. “It was my first time being on the USA Team, and such a great honor,” she says. “It was amazing to represent my country.” In so doing, she reached the medal round in nine events, bringing home two gold medals, along with a silver and three bronze.
Given her many accomplishments, it may come as a surprise that Athena herself does not consider herself a particularly competitive person. However, on closer reflection, it makes perfect sense that her success comes from internal drive independent of others. Pursuing passions which continually challenge her to improve as an individual while connecting as part of a larger team, Athena brings together incredible focus and dedication, inner strength, and conscious reflection is a way which is no less than awe-inspiring.
What’s next on Athena’s evolving list of goals? The toughest part for such a multi-talented, determined individual is settling on which to put first. She does intend to continue progressing in the NASKA (North American Sport Karate Association) circuit, aiming to earn more national titles and, ultimately, a world title there. She is further trying out a circuit that leads to the Olympics. There will certainly be plenty of diverse noteworthy moments and achievements along the way, let alone upon arrival. Whatever these may be, there is no doubt that Athena has every reason to trust in her capable, grounded center, and the strong community behind her, cheering each step.
Thank you, Athena, for sharing with us! You are an incredible role model, and we look forward to following and applauding your journeys ahead!
LWL: It is mind-boggling how much you fit into each day, taking everything you pursue to such a high standard as well. That must involve a certain amount of sacrifice on your part. Can you talk a little about how you handle that?
Athena: It can be really hard sometimes. I can’t go to a football game, because I have a tournament, for example. I have to give up a lot socially. But I know it’s worth it. I get so much internal satisfaction from knowing I’m doing my best to prepare. And I am really fortunate to have such a supportive community in my sport.
LWL: It seems you’ve developed a very strong community over the years. Can you tell us more about that?
Athena: The national team is a very positive community where we’re all competing yet supporting each other. The coaches are amazing. About four years ago, I really stepped out of my comfort zone in a way that really impacted me when it comes to building community. I went to a camp in Kansas City in the winter. It was three intense, 8-hour days, and I didn’t know anyone. But it was a turning point. I was inspired and realized I really want to be doing this. I also met both my current coaches there, and ultimately ended up being invited on to Team USA and Amerikick National Team due to the contacts I made there.
I’ve definitely made lifelong friends and connections through martial arts. And I’m so grateful for my parents’ support. My mom is my biggest fan. She’s for sure my main person at tournaments, I’m always screaming at her to get things for me. She doesn’t complain. I know I don’t show my appreciation enough.
LWL: You are an inspiring role model. What advice do you have for young people who aspire to pursue their best as you do?
Athena: It’s all about believing yourself. It’s realizing that anything is possible if you put enough effort into it. That’s something I’ve had to work on, on the mat especially. It isn’t something that’s natural or even always steady once you get there. Sometimes I struggle with getting on the mat in competition and doing what I’ve been doing in practice. I have to work on that self-belief, and channeling it.
LWL: What’s your favorite healthy food?
Athena: I love sushi. I go to Whole Foods just about every day for it, for lunch. And I love fruit.
LWL: How have you and your family prioritized healthy eating together?
Athena: We cook together, and salad is a staple meal.
LWL: Any special standout training tips?
Athena: Somehow, make time for sleep. It’s a more important part of training than we typically realize.