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Karate climb has been a real kick for Talent black belt heading to international competition

Travis Gillentine has the type of determination that resembles a salmonswimming upstream.

The 30-year-old Talent resident has used this desire to overcome a medicaladversity and become an accomplished karate fighter.

Gillentine departs Tuesday for Colorado Springs, Colo., to compete inthe most prestigious sport karate event in the world, the National BlackbeltLeague Super Grands World Games VIII.

In his first appearance at the Super Grands, Gillentine will attemptto win world titles in point sparring and team sparring. The tournamentdraws participants from 15 countries and nearly every state and provincein the United States and Canada.

Gillentine's life changed dramatically when as a 12-year-old he was diagnosedwith bone cancer. The disease was discovered after breaking his left legin a fifth-grade tackle football game. For four years, he endured differenttreatments for the disease. Eventually he got successful results througha bone graft from his hip used in the leg where tumors were removed.

I was real competitive at an early age, says Gillentine,who grew up in New Mexico. It was really tough because I heard a lotof negative things like I would never play sports again.

After being disabled for about a five-year period, the athletic Gillentineturned to karate as a form of rehabilitation. And he had dramatic results.

After six months of karate, my left leg was just as big as my rightleg, says Gillentine.

He entered his first karate tournament after one year of training. Thisexperience fueled his determination to improve.

It gave me a lot of inner strength because you don't always win,says Gillentine, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 180 pounds. You'reonly a loser if you chose to be. I went back and trained more. It was somethingthat demanded a lot. I had goals to achieve and that kept me going.

Gillentine's interest in the sport triggered his move to the Rogue Valleyseven years ago. As a brown belt in Tae Kwon Do, he relocated to study undernationally recognized Chip Wright, who he had met at a karate conventionon the east coast.

Gillentine worked a graveyard shift at a plywood mill and trained atWright's karate school in Medford by day, earning his blackbelt in 1992.Now Gillentine's livlihood comes from a karate school he opened at Medford'sPowerhouse Gym two years ago.

Since coming to Southern Oregon, he has methodically worked his way upthe ladder in the sport of karate point sparring.

This year has been Gillentine's most successful. He is ranked first inpoint sparring in the Pacific Northwest Conference and the Canadian AmericanNational Conference. The top five fighters from each of 17 conferences inNorth American and two in Europe are eligible for the Super Grands.

He is also a member of the top ranked team sparring squad in the PacificNorthwest Conference with partners Leo Hoeft and Nick Sundstrom of Portland.

Point sparring is an aggressive, contact event. Competitors battle withinan approximately 20-by-20-foot space, with blows being struck with the fistsand feet to the head, body or groin areas of an opponent.

Fighters wear headgear, mouth piece, groin protector, dipped foam glovesand shoes without a sole and padding on top.

A match is two minutes long or if a fighter gets five points ahead. Pointsare scored by clean hits to the allowed areas. When a point is scored thejudges raise a colored flag designating either fighter. Usually bouts havethree to five judges and a majority of the judges must acknowledge a pointfor it to count.

It's basically a real fast game, says Gillentine. Thetechnique must be good otherwise you won't score points. In my divisionanything goes except you can't make a person bleed or knock them out. Accuracyis extremely important.

Team sparring matches three-man squads against each other in individualfights with the essentially the same rules as point sparring. The winningteam is determined by the cumulative scores of all three members.

Gillentine got off to a fast start in his breakthrough year with a victoryin the highly regarded Tiger Balm Internationals in Vancouver, British Columbialast March.

Winning that set the stage for everything I've done all year,Gillentine says. That put me ahead of a lot of people right from thebeginning of the season and allowed me to stay ahead.

Hoeft approached Gillentine this year to join the team event becausehe like Gillentine's personality and fighting style. The chemistry has workedwell as the team is undefeated with victories in six national tournaments,one international event and four regional competitions.

Travis has such a kicking ability he can place his foot up aroundyour neck in a blink of an eye, says Hoeft. His kicking is hisstrongest point.

Gillentine credits an unrelenting work ethic for his accomplishments.He trains between three to four hours a day, seven days a week.

Consistency is the key to everything, says Gillentine. Ifyou're going to be successful, it becomes a way of life.

Gillentine has certainly lived by that credo.

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