Through courage, determination and what she boils down to sheer luck, Christina Kebort, chief instructor of the Jamestown YMCA's karate programs, has overcome quite a bit to get where she is today.
As children, Kebort and her brother were victims of frequent bullying due to a difficult home life.
"My mom was completely blind and my father suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a car, so we were bullied," said Kebort.
Christina Kebort is pictured with her current instructor, Rick Johnson, of Johnson’s Black Belt Academy in Warren, Pa. Kebort is the only adult female from Johnson’s dojo to earn eighth Dan. Kebort is also pictured below spending tim with the kids during the April Break Day Camp at the Jamestown YMCA.
To help Kebort and her brother build self-esteem and confidence, her uncle, William Kebort, began to teach them martial arts.
"Every new rank I received (in Shotokan Karate) was because my uncle wouldn't let me give up," Kebort said. "He always said to never give up, never surrender, never back down, and to put your heart in all you do, but be humble and respectful because there's always someone better than you, and that's what it takes to equal one worthwhile black belt. I've never forgotten that."
Because of the difficulties she faced at home, Kebort was also placed into the foster care system at an early age.
"I got lucky that day. They may be my foster family, but they're family, and I love them dearly," said Kebort. "I don't know how to pay people back for that luck, so now I just try to do what I can to be there for other people."
So she went after her martial arts instructor certification and began teaching karate in the afterschool program at Love Elementary. Twelve years ago, she expanded her teaching to the YMCA, where she now instructs both youth and adults in Shotokan Karate as part of the Jamestown Y's karate program.
"I love teaching," Kebort said. "I've won world championship titles, but now I also have students with world championship titles and awards."
One of the biggest lessons that Kebort's students learn is respect, but they also are taught discipline and self-defense while gaining confidence and self-esteem.
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Kebort also works as a pre-K aide for Love School's PACT Program and with the afterschool programs at Love and Lincoln elementary schools.
"I love working with kids, for kids, because I know what I got out of life when people were there for me when I was a kid," said Kebort. "Kids are our future. We need to be there for them and help them in whatever way we can."
Kebort is especially grateful to those who looked out for her when she was a kid, which is why she is so focused on helping the next generation.
"I had school teachers and police officers, Bob Service in particular, watch out for me," Kebort said. "Between them and my foster family, I am who I am today."
In addition to karate at the YMCA, Kebort works with the Y's summer day camps and youth programs.
"I enjoy working with the Y in particular because I like what the Y stands for: youth development and healthy living," Kebort said. "I believe in that."
Just this month, Kebort accomplished another tremendous feat, one that less than a handful of women in the world can claim. After a seven-hour exam of all aspects of martial arts training, she was promoted to eighth Dan, or eighth degree of black belt, and has achieved the title Kyoshi.
"When my uncle got sick, I promised him I'd get my first black belt," Kebort said. He died two years ago, but it is still because of his drive and encouragement that I got this most recent promotion."