- Associated Press - Saturday, October 14, 2017

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) - Taking on a predominantly male sport since the age of 7, two sisters have risen to not only be champions in martial arts, but role models for other girls.

Twins Skylar and Ali Rogers, 13, competed in the 2017 World Kickboxing and Karate Union World Championships Aug. 27 to Sept. 1 in Killarney, Ireland. Under the direction of World Karate/Kickboxing Union Team USA, the girls received three bronze medals.

“It is really fun to be different. A lot of girls don’t do this,” Skylar Rogers said.

Ali said “it was really exciting and shocking to win bronze this year.”

The North Hall Middle School eighth-graders competed against 12 to 14 competitors, mostly male, in their age categories. Their mother, Tanya Rogers, said that as the girls go up in rank, there are fewer girls competing.

“What I have seen with them is that they do this to show that girls can do anything,” Tanya Rogers said. “Ali is dyslexic so she is trying to show other people they can do it and to not to give up and persevere. Skylar is doing it to show people you can be different.”

Tanya Rogers said the girls are being recognized not only for their talents, but for being good role models.

“The girls pray before they go out on the mat, so everyone sees that, and we sold shirts this year that had a verse on them that they picked out. They know why they are doing the things that they are doing,” Tanya Rogers said. “A lot of people do this sport because they want to see what they can get from the sport; the girls are giving back to the sport. This is their platform to show that girls can do this.”

Skylar said it feels good to be a role model for others.

“There was one tournament last year where a little girl’s mom asked if I could take a picture with her because she just started doing fans,” Skylar said. “I was told the fan is not a weapon and I am still told that. I am also told that I am a girl, and I shouldn’t be doing this sport. But more girls are doing it. It makes you strive to do it, to prove them wrong.”

Ali said she has “always had the heart for this.”

“It is cool to be different. It feels good to be that one person who is different, and seeing other girls come out now and doing it is cool,” Ali said. “Girls should follow what they are interested in and when they get to someone that says ‘you can’t do it, you are not meant for it,’ they have to push through that. Don’t give up.”

Last year, the championship was held in Orlando, Florida where the sisters placed fifth.

“What we wanted really badly was a medal because if you don’t medal you are not on the team, so last year we had to try out again,” Ali Rogers said. “This year we get to keep our spot and we get to try out for more things.”

Accepted onto Team USA again this year, Ali qualified for traditional weapons and musical weapons with her bo staff, and Skylar qualified for musical weapons and weapons, no music with her Japanese fans.

The martial arts duo each have their brown belts and are working toward achieving black belt this year.

“I fight; I do traditional weapons, traditional forms and I just started doing musical weapons,” Ali said.

Skylar said she does not fight as often as her sister, but does traditional forms, traditional weapons, creative weapons, musical weapons and extreme weapons.

“I was the most nervous because I had just gotten a brand new routine for this. That is why I was working so hard,” Skylar said.

The girls have strenuous schedules between their academics, martial arts, cheerleading, track and musical pursuits. However, their busy lives do not slow them down.

“We trained every day. During the school week we would come home, do homework then go straight outside to practice more. We can practice anywhere and run through our forms,” Ali said.

Tanya Rogers said her daughters give up a lot of their Saturdays, their time before and after school, as well as summers to train.

Skylar and Ali will be traveling to Crete, Greece with Team USA for the next WKU World Championship Oct. 20 to 26.

Before moving to Georgia, they trained at Harris Holt Martial Arts in Clarksville, Tennessee. They still travel back there about once every three months to test for their belts. The girls continue to train together at Next Level Martial Arts in Stone Mountain with their coach, Kodaq Wray. They also are guided by Jesse Wray in New York, and Skylar does private lessons with Marcel Jones in Johns Creek.

The girls said the team is doing a #InsaneYear in memory of former Next Level South International Martial Arts Team coach Chris Chastain who died in January.

“This year we are really working to do it in his name,” Skylar said.

The girls said their father, Army Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Rogers, has been instrumental in their drive and success. They also are grateful for the support of their mother, Northside Church and their instructors in Georgia and Tennessee.

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