Athlete of the Month: Karate Kid Keonabelle

Rachel Bullock

Black belt Keona Paniagua competing in a tournament.

As if playing two sports at Birmingham wasn’t enough, freshman Keona Paniagua is a black belt in martial arts outside of school.

Paniagua has been participating in martial arts since she was three when her father enrolled her in the program. Not really having a choice to participate, she learned more about the activity, gradually coming to accept it, enjoy it and thrive in it.

“I really enjoyed it so I continued to do it,” Paniagua said.

Paniagua has been doing martial arts for 11 years now at the House of Champions. After almost a decade of training, just two years ago, is when she achieved what she had always worked towards. It’s a moment most dream of and at such a young age and after so long, Paniagua was able to actually accomplish it.

“It’s a really cool feeling,” Paniagua said. “I worked at it for years, it’s like accomplishing a lifelong goal.”

Even though she continues to enjoys martial arts with her current success, it’s stressful continuing because she’s also balancing school work and her other sports on top of the martial arts.

“I make sacrifices, like hanging out with friends, going to games. It’s overwhelming sometimes,” Paniagua said.

Regardless, Paniagua has a passion for martial arts unlike most, pulling through despite the struggles. She returns to the House of Champions for her matches and practices, determined in further enhancing her skills and doing what she loves.

“It’s a way to express myself,” Paniagua said. “I’m not a dancer or an artist, but with martial arts I can be me.”