A SCHOOLGIRL who suffered at the hands of bullies has made history at her karate club by landing a black belt at the age of 14.
Determined Neave Root is the youngest female exponent to make the top grade since Higashi Karate Kai started in Swindon 47 years ago.
She is the second youngest overall, with her achievement made all the more impressive by the fact only six women have made black belt, and all were over 16.
“It’s an amazing feeling and I’m quite proud because it took a lot of hard work,” the St Joseph’s Catholic College student said.
“I was very nervous on the day and I was the last one called up so it was a relief to get the black belt.”
Neave practised twice a week at the Oasis with the club’s masters – called senseis – and made monthly trips to London to prepare for the big day.
“One of the sessions was on a Friday and it was hard to concentrate after a really long week,” she said.
“But the senseis really knew how to motivate me and a lot of the older guys who have already got black belts made me feel a little bit more confident.
“I enjoy being around these sorts of people because they really push me to achieve what I can achieve. I enjoy the challenge of learning something new at every session.”
The sporty youngster, from Ferndale, is also a triathlete with the Swindon Phoenix club.
Her mother Marie, 38, said: “Neave had suffered a little bit of bullying so she started off doing Tae Kwon Do to improve her confidence in dealing with situations.
“She took to it straight away and even though it didn’t work out with that club she worked really hard when she started the karate.
“She hadn’t graded for about a year before she got her black belt and she went to London every month for two years to do an intensive course.
“She’s found it difficult but she’s a very tenacious person who gets up every day at 5.30am to do her paper round, rain or shine, and runs, swims and cycles with the triathlon club, even though she struggled with elements of that.
“I’m very proud of her.”
Sensei Pete Whitney said: “Neave has been with me since about 2005 when she was a very young lady and she has worked very hard to get to a standard that is hard to achieve.
“Unlike a lot of the styles and so-called karate around the country you don’t just get given grades in Higashi, you have to earn them, with a minimum of three months between every grade and between six and 12 months between brown and black.
“She went to London and was unanimously passed by the technical committee. She did very well indeed.”
But Neave has some tough competition on her hands.
Her nine-year-old brother and club-mate Evan has already climbed to an orange belt – with the target of landing his black at the age of 13.