Park City karate practitioner Tiana Clevenger sets sights on U.S. National Team
Teenager competes in narrow field as she reaches the sport’s upper echelon
On Saturday morning, Park City Karate was filled with the sound of young practitioners, shouting as they perform their exercises. Tiana Clevenger and two other high-level students demonstrated proper technique for the young class. Usually, Clevenger wouldn’t be there at that time, but she came in for the benefit of the students so they could see what good form looks like.
She was chosen for the task because, at 17 years old, Clevenger is the top female competitor in the gym, and a contender at the international level. Two weeks ago she competed in Curacao, Dutch Antilles, at the Karate World Cup, where she took bronze in her weight group and the Women’s Open competition and silver in team competition.
With karate making its Olympic debut in Japan in 2020, Clevenger is eyeing a spot on the U.S. National team. But it wasn’t so long ago she was one of those young students in the class, and she is still searching for balance between karate and teenage life.
She started practicing Karate when she was nine, after her younger sister joined.
“She was like ‘Oh karate’s so cool, I’m going to be able to beat up my big sister now,’ and I’m like ‘No, that’s not happening,’’” Clevenger said.
Clevenger loved the individual aspect of the sport and kept competing successfully. In the last few years she has medaled in the Junior Olympics in Las Vegas, the USA Nationals in Greenville, South Carolina, and in Reno, Nevada, the next year, as well as Pittsburgh, the year after.
Now, Douglas Jepperson, the head instructor at Park City Karate, said Clevenger is in the gym about five days a week.
“And that’s pretty tough for a 17-year-old girl,” he said. “She’s also involved in Park City High, on the soccer team, the softball team.”
Because multi-sport athletes are generally more successful, he encourages her to participate in other sports, but karate demands a lot of her time.
Meanwhile, outside the dojo, Clevenger is just another high schooler. Few people know that she competes, or how the sport works.
“Karate is such a weird sport,” she said. “So many people have so little knowledge about it and all they know is what they see in movies. … So it’s hard to talk about it with other people.”
Fewer can compete with her.
“She’s right at the edge, where the groups are getting smaller but the competitors are better,” Jepperson said. “When she started, there were girls just as good as her that she could train with every day. Now there’s no girl in here she can train with, so she’ll train with the men, she’ll do personal things, but that’s common (for people at her level).”
Come January, Clevenger will start training again in earnest as she prepares for the US Nationals competition in July.
To reach her goal, she will cycle through different types of training, alternating agility and fitness with Karate in weeks-long blocks.
At 17, with true adulthood looming, she said she still wants to find time to be a teenager, but she also wants to be a champion.
“Karate takes so much from your social life and your personal life, you have to give up certain things in order to do the sport and do it well,” she said. “That’s the biggest hurdle, is really committing and giving it everything.”
After her Kata demonstration Saturday, she disappeared into the back of the dojo and reemerged, her white uniform transformed to black jeans and a white Curacao T-shirt.
As she walked toward the door, leaving for work at a furniture consignment store, Jepperson called to her.
“Isn’t it a bummer that your dad makes you work instead of letting you loaf around all day?” he asked.
“How else would I pay for gas?” she said.
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