SOMERS, N.Y. – For the last few years, Sierra Deodhari has been quietly making a name for herself in the karate world and is now emerging as one of the country’s elite competitors in her age group.

The 11-year old sixth grader at Somers Middle School began practicing the art (and sport) at age 3, when her father Bobby took her to a local karate class.

“When I was little, I used to love running and jumping and kicking and as soon as I tried it, I fell in love with it and I’ve continued throughout,” Sierra said. “You learn how to defend yourself and you also learn about integrity, discipline, honor and respect.”

Sign Up for Somers Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Karate, which translates to “empty hand” in Japanese, is a type of martial arts where one uses specific fighting techniques for self-defense; it also stresses the coordination of mind and body, with rituals and practices that are taught as a way of life.

In July, Sierra, who has already achieved her brown belt, was a gold medalist at the USA Karate National Championships and Team Trials in Chicago. Her victory was in the advanced division of  “Kata,” referring to form and the choreographed patterns of solo movements in karate (the other category known at “Kumite” involves active sparring against an opponent). The win followed multiple other honors in previous years: she has excelled at tournaments in places like Puerto Rico, Toronto, the Dominican Republic, Boston, Philadelphia and Vermont.

Her father, Bobby, said it became apparent that Sierra needed the next level of training—and a coaching group was formed to support her.

“We put together a team: for mental health, nutrition and fitness, speed and agility,” he said.

“We brought in a French national champion, Sandy Scordo, who is number four in the world, to look at Sierra’s health and nutrition.” In addition, Sierra, a dedicated athlete with a bright smile, trains five to six days a week with several other world champions, both in her home and also on Long Island. Sensei Heidi Reynoso, who was a three-time gold medalist in karate at the Pan American Games, has made Sierra her protege—and comes to the Deodhari home in Somers many hours each week to privately train her, and accompanies her student to all events.

“For me, the goal I have for her is personal,” Reynoso said. “The first time I saw her, I knew that she really loved doing karate and I know she wants to win some competitions in the future that are really, really difficult; she can do anything if she works hard.”

Beyond her current season of tournaments, and with Somers Middle School and the entire community behind her, Sierra is working toward her next national title in 2021: to represent the United States at the Pan American Championships. Her father said she would be the first person from Westchester County to represent the country on such a team.

As for the Olympics, karate will make its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games—and although it will be excluded from the Paris 2024 Games, Sierra has dreams to one day compete at that level.

“I would love when I am older to represent the United States team,” she said, and added that she feels grateful for the local support. “A lot of classmates wish me good luck before I compete and my teachers do, too.”

The other clear benefits of karate that he has seen in his daughter are focus and confidence, Bobby Deodhari explained. “Before she started karate, she was very meek,” he said. “We are mindful of the pressures too, and keep on top of her mental health, like before tournaments, we have a doctor and Sierra has a chat with him, and we also give her time off, so we are not pushing her.”

The young champion agreed: “My dad’s job is to make all the travel arrangements, my Sensei’s job is to coach me, train me and get me ready for competition and my job is to go out there, do my best and win.”