Team Impact athletes selected to Team USA for world games

Published 4:11 pm Friday, June 9, 2023

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

Four martial arts athletes from Chilton County will be representing the United States in July at the World Martial Arts Games. Team Impact Martial Arts’ Will Headley, Bryant Culpepper, Tyler Stallings and Holly Pate were chosen from thousands of athletes to join the U.S. Martial Arts Team. Impact’s coach Sean Gilham was also picked to be a coach for the team as well at the world games on July 29-31 in Daytona Beach, Florida. The other three members of Team USA reside in Birmingham, Tennessee and Florida.

Athletes from the United States will be joined by teams from England, Germany, Spain, India and more. The World Martial Arts Games are held every two years, and the event is formally recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

“It is going to be a great opportunity for them and it will be something different,” Gilham said. “They compete all the time, but this scale will be different. For them to accept the challenge is big, but now for them to put the work in to get ready for it is huge. I am excited they get to represent their country.”

The athletes had a huge try out, and the athletes from Team Impact got together and recorded a workout together. Gilham sent it in and they were chosen to represent the team. Competitors from all across the United States sent in try out videos.

“We put together a three-hour try out video, but they survived,” Gilham said. “We are a team, but at the end of the day we are an individual sport. You do not have that person to make a winning shot, so it could be more pressure (on the athlete), but pressure makes diamonds.”

Gilham took a student from Team Impact to Ireland in a past World Games. He got to experience it before which can help him guide the newcomers in July. The athletes said they are also looking forward to bouncing ideas off of the other competitors and picking up new techniques and practices there from others.

Headley, who is nine years old, said for him personally, he is looking forward to meeting new people more than he is interested in winning the competition.

“It is pretty cool, and I had just made Team Impact so I am doing a lot more classes now. It makes me feel good,” Headley said. “Getting to meet all of these new people and seeing all of these new things is very exciting for me, and us.”

Pate, who is 13 years old, said she is excited about the experience as well and is learning new languages to communicate with the other athletes from overseas.

For 16-year-old Stallings, who has only been competing in martial arts since 2021, he is more interested in the competition itself and taking home the best finish he possibly can. He is excited to compete against different people and is intrigued to see how their disciplines differ in their country from the United States.

“It is really cool for me because I have not been doing this for a long time,” Stallings said. “I made Team Impact, and now Team USA. It is really cool.”

Stallings said making the Team USA is the biggest accomplishment in his martial arts career. He played football, basketball and baseball before coming to Impact, but he said martial arts is different because it is more of an individual sport, which he enjoys.

“I used to play other sports, but when I came here and started doing this I really liked it,” Stallings said. “You learn new things, you get better discipline and I hope when I get older I can have a name for myself in it. At the end of the day, you are trying to do what is best for you. Of course, your teammates mean a lot, but whatever you can do to better yourself is what you need to do.”

Stallings said he wants to eventually get into competitive karate or possibly mixed martial arts.

Ten-year-old Culpepper also offered up his thoughts on being selected to Team USA.

“I am really excited about going to worlds,” Culpepper said. “I cannot wait to see the other athletes from the other countries and compete with them.”

Team Impact competes year-round and normally has only one month of down time in December. They compete in a specific circuit that keeps the athletes in season virtually the entire calendar year. The athletes have some big tournaments coming up in Atlanta and a few others they will be competing in to prepare for the world games. Each athlete mentioned specific techniques they want to work on during those tournaments to prepare for the World Martial Arts Games.

“We are a small town with a big name, and that is our goal,” Gilham said. “They go and represent not only (Impact Martial Arts) well, but our country well too.”