12 year old with medical challenges earns her green belt at Cocoa Beach Karate School in traditional authentic Matsubayashi-Ryu (Shorin-Ryu) karate.
Malcolm Denemark, FLORIDA TODAY
Holly Hammac is no stranger to a fight.
The 12-year-old was born with Polymicrogyria, a condition characterized by abnormal development of the brain before birth.
It left her with left-sided hemiplegic cerebral palsy, which affects the brain’s ability to control muscle movement on her right side, epilepsy, autism, intellectual disabilities and attention deficit disorder.
Polymicrogyria affects her ability to speak, has caused developmental delays and seizures.
Yet, in spite of her difficulties, Holly has been taking karate classes at Cocoa Beach Karate for more than two years and recently was awarded her green belt, a major accomplishment representing her sixth promotion since starting.
In addition, Holly was awarded a special purple heart medal, which represents Purple Day, the international grassroots effort dedicated to increasing awareness about epilepsy worldwide.
“Holly is an inspiration to all of us here at Cocoa Beach Karate,” said Sensei Des Chaskelson. “She has shown just what a warrior she is with an indomitable spirit and we are all very proud of her and her accomplishments in karate.”
In children born with Polymicrogyria, the brain develops too many folds, or gyri, and the folds are unusually small. This causes problems with functioning in the body much like how the effects of a stroke can affect the brain.
Holly’s mom, Deborah Hammac, says epilepsy has been the worst part of her daughter’s disability because of the seizures.
Holly had brain surgery in 2015 to have the right hemisphere of her brain disconnectedfrom the left to ease the seizures.
This brain surgery saved her life. But Holly still battles epilepsy in her left hemisphere. Her medical team at Nemours Children’s Hospital Pediatric has been treating her, and medications are helping to keep her seizures under control.
And karate has helped her stamina and given her a confidence she hadn’t had.
“It’s made her stronger,” Deborah Hammac said. “It’s so exciting to watch her get to participate with everybody and the acceptance that’s been shown to her here. She is 100 percent accepted. She started out where she couldn’t even make 10 minutes without having to sit and rest and now she can do a full two-hour class and make it with the rest of them. It’s just done so much for her.”
In order to earn her green belt, Holly has been attending karate classes three times a week for more than two years, and had to demonstrate punching, blocking and kicking techniques, with only her left hand and foot.
She also was required to “walk the gauntlet” between lines of students who attacked her as she defended herself and counter-attacked.
In addition, Holly was required to break a board, which she did with a one-handed karate punch.
She has also become quite proficient in the use of the nunchaku, the ancient Okinawan weapon.
It’s an amazing transformation from when she first started.
“Holly is a real example for all of us in karate,” Chaskelson said. “Karate at its essence is a martial art and it endeavors to teach us how to deal with adversities that life throws at us and Holly exemplifies that for all of us.”
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