Just call her a world champ

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:43 PM ET

These days, it just might qualify as every teenager's -- or even pre-teen's -- most prized possession.

But Rebecca Shaffer's first cellphone is much more than that.

Every time the 12-year-old from Ottawa makes a call with her new camera phone, she'll no doubt be reminded about what she did to earn a special reward.

"It was a big surprise. I've wanted one for a long time," Shaffer said about the cellphone her parents, Joe and Karen, gave their daughter after she became a world karate champion in Niagara Falls on Thursday.

With a decision victory over an English rival, Shaffer won the gold for +45 kg continuous sparring in the 12-and-under girls' age class at the World Karate Association's amateur world championship. The tournament was held in the glittery ballroom at Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort.

"It feels amazing," said Shaffer when asked -- on her cellphone, of course -- how it feels to be called a world champion. "I really wanted it and I worked very hard. I had some tough fights, and I'm really proud of myself."

But her achievement was no random roll of the dice. After winning all her continuous sparring matches at the Canadian championships in Ottawa in May -- the first time she tried the discipline at a tournament -- Shaffer felt confident about her chances at worlds.

"I thought I'd do well," she said. "When I fought at nationals, it was my first time (doing continuous sparring) and I beat everyone there.

"So at worlds, I had a lot more experience at it. I trained really hard. I was hoping I'd do well and I did."

Shaffer also qualified for the world championships in point sparring, at which she'd posted unbeaten records at both the regionals in London in April and the Ottawa nationals. But she was eliminated in the first round in Niagara Falls.

The Grade 8 student at Emily Carr Middle School in Blackburn Hamlet has studied karate for five years at Elite Karate Martial Arts Centre in Orleans. Her instructor, sensei Guy Ouellette, is a three-time world champ himself.

After first taking ballet classes, Shaffer decided to try karate "just for fun."

"I still remember my first class (in February 2001)," she said. "I came home and showed my mom and dad everything I learned."

EARNS BLACK BELT

She's learned a whole lot more since then. Last summer, Shaffer earned her black belt.

"It was the hardest weekend of my life," she said. "It's not an easy thing to get. That thing means a lot to me now."

That's also when she decided she'd like to try for the world team.

"I love the sport and I love tournaments," said Shaffer. "I love being at competitions with people who want the same thing as me ... to win."

Her talents extend beyond karate. Shaffer is a straight-A student at Emily Carr, and last year made the finals of the Ottawa-Carleton Public School Board's public speaking contest. She believes karate helps her in all areas of life.

"It helps in everything," she said. "It teaches you self-discipline. It teaches to you to respect yourself and other people."

There was one extra thrill for Shaffer in Niagara Falls -- meeting and getting her picture taken with three-time world figure skating champion Elvis Stojko, a long-time marital arts devotee who won a silver medal in his event.

"I saw him at regionals and nationals, too," said Shaffer. "We didn't talk much. It was pretty exciting (meeting him). Any time someone famous is doing karate, it's more publicity for the sport.

"That's always good."

So is a new cellphone.

Especially one so well earned.

EXPERIENCE COUNTS: The stats say Ottawa's Runa Reta lost her first-round match at the U.S. Open squash tournament in Boston. But the 9-0, 9-5, 9-1 loss to No. 1 seed Nathalie Grinham of Australia was a valuable measuring stick for Reta, who used two impressive victories in qualifying to reach the main draw. "I've put a lot of work into my game this year and it's improved a lot," said Reta. "But you go up against a player like Nathalie and you realize there's still a lot of areas you need to improve on." Reta has climbed to No. 31 in the world rankings, the highest for a Canadian woman.

TEACHING THE WORLD: FIFA, world soccer's governing body, has chosen Ottawa's Sonia Denoncourt to head up its new women's referee development program. She begins the posting in December. Denoncourt had been the director of referee development for the Canadian Soccer Association since 2001, and was named a FIFA instructor last year. She has officiated at two Olympic Games, including the 2000 women's final in Sydney, and three women's World Cups.

AROUND THE AMATEUR SCENE: With another medal at the Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris this week, Gatineau's Valerie Marcoux and pairs partner Craig Buntin could put themselves in position to qualify for their first Grand Prix final. The two-time Canadian champions were bronze medallists at Skate Canada in St. John's last month ... Perth's Nicholas Tritton finished seventh in men's 90 kg at the Finnish Open judo tournament in Vantaa ... Laura Zielinski of Whitby won the BMO Merit Award of Excellence for her short program at the Skate Canada Eastern Ontario Sectionals in Whitby last weekend.

rob.brodie@ott.sunpub.com


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