Alessandra Alinea and Shane Billow are not your average Disney World visitors.
Earlier this summer, the two teammates from Amerikick Marlton, a fitness and kickboxing studio in Marlton, traveled to Disney’s Coronado Springs for a multi-day karate tournament.
The trip was not the first long-distance jaunt for the rising high-school seniors, who’ve been involved in martial arts for more than 10 years.
“[Years ago], my mom decided to sign both of us [my sister and I] up for class at Amerikick Martial Arts in Marlton …” said Alinea, who will return to Eastern High School this fall. “After about a month, my sister decided it was not for her; she quit and moved on to more art [oriented hobbies], but I stuck with it.
“About six years later,” she added, “I earned my black belt, which is around the same time I started competing nationally.”
Alinea and Billow – who has also earned his black belt – both compete in the North American Sport Karate Association, or NASKA, and frequently travel together to competitions throughout the country.
“I started around the age of 6 … “ recalled Billow, who will return to Cherokee High School. “When my mom asked me I [originally] had the wrong idea. I thought it was some after-school activity that they did at my school. But I started at Amerikick in Marlton and I have stuck with it ever since.
“This led me to earning my black belt and competing in the NASKA circuit along with Alessandra.”
Billow remembers his initial tournaments with other competing Amerikick studios – there are locations in Cherry Hill and Moorestown – but with support from his parents, he branched out to compete against stronger, broader competition.
“I want to say after about two years, I started [attending] tournaments not hosted by Amerikick, and those were my first experiences seeing how it was,” he said. “It [was different] than what I was used to.”
While Alinea and Billow compete in different divisions, they have similar approaches when preparing for tournaments: Stay in, stay focused, (try to) relax, and enjoy the unique experience. The teammates agreed that no matter how much preparation goes into a tournament, there will always be those ‘pre-game jitters.’
“No matter how much preparation I put into my craft, no matter how many hours I put into my performance, I am always nervous,” Alinea acknowledged. “But usually that helps. Being nervous actually pumps me up and forces me to focus.”
“I don’t allow myself to hang out or have much fun until after i compete,” said Billow with a laugh,” After that last performance, I let myself talk and hang out.”
In addition to Disney, the two have traveled to Canada, Rhode Island, California and many other locations. Earlier this month, they went to Kansas City, Missouri, for a two-day training session with Olympian Sandra Sanchez, a gold medal winner from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Billow and Alinea trained for eight hours a day, learning five new katas (forms) in kickboxing. The pair was introduced to new moves, techniques and stances. Alinea noted that although the trip was short, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences in her karate career.
“It really changed the way I saw how I did my martial arts,” she said. “I will definitely take those lessons and use them in my future competitions.”
As the teammates head into senior year of high school, they both hope to stay involved in mixed martial arts in some way, despite the fact it’s unlikely they continue to train competitively. Both have plans to attend college in the fall but have not made their decisions yet.
“I know my focuses will shift, but I really don’t want to leave martial arts behind,” said Billow. “I know it will always be a part of me, but there is just going to be bigger things I think I will have to focus on …
“Although it’s fun, it won’t always have such a big impact [in my life].”
“As much as I would like to have martial arts as my main focus, I want to make film my career,” said Alinea, who plans to attend film school. “I’m just trying to pass on my knowledge into the next generation of martial artists, follow in (the) footsteps of my instructors.”