BY KEITH LACEY
Joel Leduc and Ryan Labranche never grew up dreaming about hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Jo-Anne Leach never gave a second thought about becoming the next Elizabeth Manley.
The trio of young Sudbury athletes never had time to play hockey or figure skate, but their dedication to their sport?Gojo-Ryu karate?has landed them among Canada?s elite and earned them a spot at the upcoming World Karate Championships in Italy in August. The event is sponsored by the World Kickboxing Association.
Labranche, 19, is a first-degree black belt who captured a gold medal at the recent Canadian championships in continuous fighting. Leduc, 19, is also a first-degree black belt and he captured a bronze medal at nationals in point fighting. Leach, 20, is a second-degree black belt who captured three gold medals at nationals?one in weapons, one in open kata (forms) and one in continuous fighting.
To get to this level, Leach, Leduc and Labranche have basically dedicated their lives over the past several years to becoming elite martial artists.
Mike McGuire, sensei and owner of the Sudbury School of Martial Arts, said having two members from one school become national champions and another win bronze with all three qualifying for the world championships is one of the biggest honours in his 40-year association with the sport.
?Let?s face it, when you spend as much time as I do with these people, they?re like my own kids and when you get three of them competing at this level, it?s quite an honour,? said McGuire. ?All three have really worked hard and they deserve this recognition and opportunity to represent their country at the world championships.?
Leach and Labranche will compete in Italy in ?continuous fighting? which is basically full contact karate over two, two-minute rounds. Leduc will compete in point fighting, which is also full contact, but is different in that each match is halted momentarily after each scoring blow is landed.
?There?s a saying in our sport that all the years of training all come down to two minutes of putting your life on the line,? said McGuire.
At the black belt level, it?s not exaggerating to say competitors are risking their health as fighters tremendous force and reign blows and kicks to the head with regularity, said McGuire, whose son Darren was a world champion first-degree black belt in 1994.
The only equipment used includes a helmet, gloves, foot gear, mouth guard and athletic supporter and all can cushion blows, but not stop the majority of force applied, he said.
?The top competitors at this level are all world-class athletes,? he said. ?The level of competition is fantastic.?
Being from Northern Ontario and competing and beating the best of the rest from across the country made him very proud and at worlds ?we all really want to show what we can do?, he said.
Leach agreed winning a national title ?is a dream I?ve had? for many years and qualifying for the world championships is the highlight of her young life.
The Sudbury trio will be part of a 170-member contingent from Team Canada. More than 70 countries will be sending teams to Italy and there are expected to be more than 5,000 competitors.
Sponsorship packages range from $20 to a gold level sponsor of $1,000, which includes having the sponsor?s name place on a thank you poster, an autographed photo of Team Canada, Sudbury School of Martial Arts T-shirt, and company logo placed on team jackets and gear bags.
If interested in making a donation and/or becoming a corporate sponsor, contact Bazinet at the Sudbury School of Martial Arts at 670-8359.