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Athlete of the Month

Noelle J. Kanaga ’06

By Helana Kadyszewski


Hailing from Tower Hill School in Greenville, Del., Noelle J. Kanaga is a freshman at MIT studying business and French. Currently a starting forward on the varsity women’s field hockey team (her sister Tiffany A. Kanaga ’04 is the goalie), Noelle also plans to play lacrosse for MIT. Her main athletic interest, however, is in karate. Noelle recently competed at the USAKF National Karate and Jiu Jitsu tournaments in Akronl, Ohio and brought home three gold medals. Previous to that, she was recognized by the Karate Hall of Fame as Junior Female Athlete of the Year. During a recent training session with Tokey Hill at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, NY, she was approached by YM magazine for an article which appeared in their October 2002 issue. This November, Noelle will compete in the World Karate and Jiu Jitsu Championships in Uruguay.

The Tech: So when did it all start?

Kanaga: My mom and dad enrolled me and my sister in our first karate class when I was four and she was six.

TT: Wait a minute, no ballet?

Kanaga: Actually, I was doing tap and jazz and ballet at the time. I had done gymnastics for a period, too.

TT: When did you decide to abandon your tu-tu and stick with karate?

Kanaga: Honestly, I didn’t like it at first. I was small and very emotional. I didn’t like getting picked on by the boys in class. I wanted to do the ballerina thing. But my parents encouraged me. Soon, I grew into my body and learned to love karate. Since then, that’s where I put most of my time and effort.

TT: And you got good fast, no?

Kanaga: Yeah. I was doing pretty well at age eight. Then, at age 10, I started fighting grown men and it was back to square one.

TT: Does it ever get dangerous?

Kanaga: Oh, there are plenty of horror stories. At my last tournament, a girl was coming in to punch me, but it was slow, so I hooked it and twisted her wrist/arm. She fell back and landed strangely and had to be taken away by the medics.

TT: I see. So you’re a bully.

Kanaga: (laughs) No. Things like that happen all the time. I mean, for the World Games, people are getting stitches in their faces between points.

TT: How about you? No horror stories?

Kanaga: (laughs) No. Nothing too bad. My worst injury, knock on wood, was before preseason, last year. I was sparring with my instructor and he double-pumped a kick. The second one caught me in the eye. Blood was shooting out of the lid and it swelled from underneath. It was swollen shut for two days. My field hockey coach wasn’t too pleased.

TT: How will you prepare for the Worlds in November?

Kanaga: Well, I try to train on my own or with my sister at least an hour each day. I just booked my first trip to Ohio, which is where my coach and training partner are. We’ll get four days over the long weekend and probably train for a good 12 hours each day. We’ll have to get at least 4 good weekends in, ideally 8.

TT: Doesn’t sound like there will be much time for homework.

Kanaga: I know. I know. I’m good at cramming things onto my plate. My advisor thinks I’m a little bit crazy running for [Class of 2006] vice president on top of it all, and I am a little worried about this MIT workload. It’ll all be worth it though.

TT: So after you win the Worlds, what’s next for you?

Kanaga: I’m just crossing my fingers that we even medal. The U.S. hasn’t medaled in decades. Beyond that though, if Jiu Jitsu is placed in the Olympics for demonstration in 2004, I’m supposed to be on the team that will compete to represent the U. S. ... which would be unbelievable. I mean, I’m only 18 as of last Friday.

TT: Now, was the YM thing a big deal for you?

Kanaga: I think so. It certainly got my name into the public. It’s really hard for us to get recognition for what we do, and having an article in there was pretty big, especially since I read YM and so do my friends.

TT: And how’s field hockey going?

Kanaga: Well, It’s been a little bit frustrating because I came from a high school that sent quite a few girls to Division I field hockey programs. But I absolutely love the group of girls and the coach. and we won our first game last week. We needed that to prove to ourselves we could do it. There’s a lot of potential on that team.