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The trophies grow along with Pedersen

Fourteen can be an awkward age. Especially for a girl who already is closing fast on 5 feet 8 and looks to move on to 5-9 within the next week or two.

But there's nothing awkward about Kristin Pedersen. Her elongated legs need no "growing into." She's in full command, wielding them like knives, alternately slashing through the air to connect with an opponent's head or jabbing forward to impale an approaching aggressor.

Not that she's anything like that in real life. Reticent but friendly, one would never assume the truth: She is a black belt karate student with an abundance of 3-foot trophies lining her bedroom.

Pedersen's most recent accomplishment was winning a sparring championship at the International Sport Karate Association's U.S. Open in Orlando. Fighting against other black belts ages 13-16 _ including the ISKA's top-ranked competitors from the United States, China and Switzerland _ Pedersen came out on top.

"This had to be the toughest (people) and the most people I've ever fought," Pedersen said. "I couldn't believe it when I won. I was shocked."

Pedersen in fact won her division in sparring at the U.S. Open two years ago, but that was less competitive since she was 12 and only a purple belt at the time. Her trophy, however, is just as impressive as the new one. Pedersen missed last year's Open, having broken her collarbone playing soccer two days before the karate tournament.

This time, Pedersen was in good health and prepared for her toughest tournament challenge to date: She was in a field of 13 open-entry opponents, in addition to the three champions. If she was the victor in the open field, she would then have to fight all three champions, one at a time, for the victory.

Ultimately, that meant winning six matches for the title while the champions sat back and waited to fight only Pedersen, who lived up to the tall order.

Matches were 2 minutes long, with the fighter who scored five points first named the victor. Kicks were worth two points, hand techniques worth one. In sparring, a point-scoring punch or kick must land solidly to the stomach, chest or head.

Pedersen's final match was against the U.S. champion. Judges named Pedersen the winner, but her opponent's mother complained that there was a mistake in the scoring, Pedersen said. So the fighters continued into a sudden death overtime, in which the first to score a point would win. Pedersen took the title with a hook kick delivered to the head.

"That's my favorite," Pedersen explained. "I like head kicks. Because of my long legs."

Pedersen, who will be a sophomore at Springstead High this fall, is the first girl to be awarded a black belt in Mike Ulman's Modern Warriors Academy. She has been studying the martial arts for 4{ years since moving to Florida from New York.

She trains at least five days a week, in addition to some teaching. Pedersen intends to continue to practice and compete. She also participates in forms and weapons competitions in some tournaments, but her preference by far is sparring. Why?

"You're one-on-one with somebody," she said. "I like the competition, and the fighting. You can't get that in any other sport."