Dixon’s Kiera MacKenzie is a warm and friendly young woman. In martial arts, however, she is not someone that others want to cross.
MacKenzie is the best karate fighter in the heavyweight (plus 68 kilograms, roughly 152 pounds and over) women’s division in the state of California and third-best in the United States.
And she came within a broken video recorder of having a shot to be the best in the nation.
MacKenzie faced Cirrus Lingl in the semifinals of an Olympic qualifying match on Jan. 18 in Colorado Springs, Colo. Karate will make its debut in the Olympics in Tokyo in August as the winner of the Colorado qualifier goes to Paris for the final Olympic qualifying event in early May.
Lingl led MacKenzie by one point late in the match (matches are one three-minute round), but MacKenzie appeared to land a kick, which would have given her two points and the match. The judges called for a video review, but the camera in the corner that would have captured the moment turned out to be broken.
“It was just amazing,” said her coach Jim Ernest, who, along with his wife, Kathy, owns and operates Ramtown Karate in Dixon, where MacKenzie trains. “The other girl almost fell over because she knew right there that stroke of luck got her in there and Kiera not. That’s how close it was.”
Lingl went on to defeat Maya Wasowicz in the final to earn the trip to Paris. MacKenzie won the consolation match, making her the third best fighter in her division in the U.S.
Although there is a slight chance that MacKenzie, 21, could compete in Paris by entering another qualifier, Ernest said, “She’s just about aced out of this. That one call.”
But he was quick to add, “She probably has three shots at the Olympics. Four years from now, she will be in the middle of the age field, and four years later, the eldest. Even if she has to wait four years, she’s the youngest person in the field. She’s doing great. I’m so proud of her, and she’s doing so well.”
Speaking about Lingl, Wasowicz, and MacKenzie, Ernest said, “Those girls are so close, it’s like fractions of a second, Part of it at that level is luck. They’re all in shape, they’re all fantastic athletes. They say in a beginner sports competition it’s 10 percent mental and 90 percent skill and technique. You get to that level. It’s 90 percent mental.”
The mental aspect took its toll on Ernest as well, who sat in the coach’s chair next to the mat for MacKenzie’s matches.
“You have no right to be tired,” Ernest said. “You’re just sitting there, and the athlete’s burning all the calories. But just the speed at which everything’s working and the nuances of when to protest and when not to protest and what to say to the athlete and what not to say to the athlete and what’s going on around you with the other coaches, the other athletes. You go into an Olympic qualifier competition, and you walk into the room, and you could just feel it, like you could cut it with a knife.”
But he and his pupil were mainly having fun.
“As you might imagine at the Olympic Training Center, everyone’s having conniptions, and everybody was yelling and screaming,” Ernest said. “And honestly, we were just having a good time. We knew what we were there for. We did our best, she did great, we’re getting along fine, we weren’t confused.”
MacKenzie, who is studying agriculture business and animal sciences at Woodland Community College, agreed.
“One of the guys said, ‘You guys looked like you were having so much fun, just laughing and talking and smiling with each other out there,’” she recalled. “We were having a blast.”
Perhaps that was because after Mackenzie suffered a serious Achilles tendon injury her senior year at Vacaville Christian High. Her doctor told said she would never play sports again and that included karate. MacKenzie proved him wrong.
MacKenzie was the starting point guard and captain of the varsity basketball team for four years and all-league for three. She played three years of varsity soccer and was all-league all three as a goalkeeper.
She qualified in July 2019 at the karate nationals in Las Vegas to go to Colorado Springs this January. There she fought six matches in one day as part of the Senior National Team Trials and the Olympic qualifying event.
“She never gets tired,” Ernest said. “She’s an Eveready battery. But I think she was definitely tired after that one.”
“I was pretty sore (the next day),” MacKenzie admitted. “But it was a good sore.”
She emerged as the first alternate for the national team.
“My spot as an alternate means that for the senior Pan American championships (end of March), if somebody gets injured or sick or can’t go, they’ll send me to Costa Rica,” explained MacKenzie. “And if the top two people can’t go to Worlds (in October), they’ll send me to Dubai.”