SOMERS, N.Y. - At just 7 years old, Somers resident Sierra Deodhari is a commanding presence in the martial arts tournaments she attends—if not always initially.
“A lot of people, when they see her at first, they ignore her,” said her father, Bobby Deodhari. “Because she’s so tiny, she’s so small.
“But after she comes into herself… she always leaves everybody in awe.”
Standing at just 3-feet, 10-inches tall, her smaller stature can be deceiving to her competitors.
“You look at her, and she’s so innocent and sweet,” Sierra’s coach, Jim Smith said. “She’s a little fighter. She’s a scrapper.”
The second-grader at Primrose Elementary School already has a number of martial arts accomplishments under her belt—her brown belt, to be exact, the second-highest color rank.
Sierra’s favorite event during any tournament is Traditional Kata, a prearranged series of movements and techniques practiced in a specific pattern.
“Kata is basically a bunch of form,” Sierra said. “I love doing the form.”
Sierra also enjoys competing in the weapons portion of tournaments, something she only began practicing less than a year ago. Her weapon of choice? A wooden bo staff.
“I love using my bo,” she said, adding that she thinks the weapon “looks pretty cool.”
During her first ever weapons tournament last year, she faced competition that was up to four years her senior.
Sierra still managed to bring home a third-place finish during that competition while working with a borrowed bo staff that her father says was too long for her small frame.
Among the numerous other tournaments she attended last year, Sierra competed in the World Congress of Martial Arts World Championships in Orlando, Fla. and received a first place trophy. She also earned a first place spot at the NYT Winter Martial Art Classic in January of this year.
In February, Sierra represented the American team at the Best of the Best International Tournament in Puerto Rico, where she competed against roughly 800 contestants from across the globe, bringing home another first-place finish in Kata.
“She gets in her head what she wants to do, and she’s determined to do it,” said Smith, who coaches Sierra at Jim Smith Karate in Yorktown Heights.
Having earned her brown belt in the fall of 2015, Sierra typically faces competitors who are two to three years older than she is.
However, the potential age and size differences of her opponents don’t give her too much anxiety prior to tournaments.
“I’m really excited,” she said of her feelings before competitions. “I usually put in headphones and listen to music before I compete.”
Though listening to music before a match may be commonplace for many athletes, Sierra’s song choices may be slightly different.
Her favorite album to pump her up before competitions? KidzBop, a series of albums that feature children singing popular radio hits.
Following in the footsteps of her father, who practiced karate earlier in his life, Sierra started the sport at just 3 years old.
“She loved to run around and jump and kick,” her father said of her early martial arts days. “She fell in love with it.”
Her father has also noticed a change in Sierra’s personality, which he attributes to her participation in the sport.
“She became more forthcoming,” he said. “She will speak to anybody and everybody.”
The sport has also given Sierra a newfound confidence in herself, her father said.
“She used to be very shy,” he said. “When she started doing karate, she became very assertive.”
Sierra trains up to seven days per week, both at home with her father and with her coach, along with traveling to up to 10 martial arts tournaments every year.
“She’s got a drive and dedication I’ve never seen,” Smith said. “She wants to be the best.”
To her coach, Sierra stands out because of her unwavering focus to the sport and her training.
“When she’s on the mat, she’s drilling,” he said. “She’s practicing.”
With her busy training and tournament schedule, Smith says he jokes with Sierra that she needs to remember to take time for herself.
“[I tell her] ‘you’ve got to sleep some time, no matter how good you are!’” he recalls.
In the coming months, Sierra has travel plans in place to attend tournaments in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, along with competing in the USA Karate National Qualifier in New York in hopes to be part of Team USA.
These competitions each put Sierra one step closer to her the ultimate goal.
Along with hopes to become a doctor, it her dream to represent Team USA on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
“I hope I [go to] the Olympics!” she said.
Both of those goals seem possible to her coach.
“I think no matter what she puts her mind to,” Smith said, “she can do it.”