Growing up as an individual with autism and Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome, Jamie Druhan Green struggled fitting in and often was picked on at school.
The 2005 graduate of Lakota East High School eventually found karate as an outlet to build confidence, keep fit and feel safe.
Twelve years after first walking into Buckner Martial Arts in West Chester Towship, Green, at age 31, is the reigning U.S. para karate national champion in the kata event for the women’s over-18 intellectually disabled division. She is now preparing to compete with Team USA at the World Karate Federation World Championships from Nov. 5-11 in Madrid, Spain.
“I’m excited, but pretty nervous,” said Green, who is sometimes referred to as Dru, a shortened version of her middle name. “I don’t know what to expect.”
Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome is a syndrome involving a specific chromosome with gene mutations. Green’s affected chromosome is unique, which doctors believe might be a reason she is relatively higher functioning in terms of her RTS, according to her mother, also named Jamie Green.
Jamie Druhan Green hasn’t always been verbal but now communicates with only a slight processing delay. Karate has helped her “come a long way,” her mother said.
“It’s done a number of things for her,” Jamie Green said. “I hate the term ‘bully,’ but she was picked on in junior high and high school, as most kids with a disability tend to be, and she felt somewhat unsafe. She wanted to start karate as a way to feel more safe and confident. She’s taken off.
“There’s also a wellness aspect. Individuals with RTS can have health problems around limberness, and they are not as mobile so many become obese. Karate is a way for her to keep fit. And just the being out in the community and interacting with people helps her language and social skills. She makes connections with people. There are just so many benefits karate has afforded her.”
Jamie Druhan Green, who also got a driver’s license since beginning karate, said she now has the ability to stick up for herself. In addition to karate being a confidence builder, it has helped give her “more discipline in life itself.”
Karate has been a hobby since she began in 2006, but in the last few years she has taken the sport to a new level and has experienced being part of a team for the first time. She earned her black belt a little more than two years ago with no special treatment or exceptions, and she just began competing around the United States in the last year.
After advancing through state and regional qualifiers, she competed at the U.S. National Championship in Reno in July and took first place to earn an invitation to join Team USA in Madrid.
“New environments are always a challenge for anyone with an intellectual disability and autism in general,” Jamie Green said. “Loud environments can be overwhelming, so for her to maintain her composure and perform on the competition mat is a lot of work for her. It was a huge accomplishment winning nationals, so she’s excited but nervous about this next step.”
Jamie Druhan Green has been practicing daily since qualifying for the world championships, but she’s always been serious about her training.
At home she spends a lot of time stretching and practicing on her own, but she’s also at the dojo four or five days a week working in group or private lessons and also helping instruct the youngest age group classes.
Kata is a pattern of kicks, blocks and punches, which Jamie Druhan Green has to memorize and perform correctly. For the world championships, she has to pick two katas from a list (katas have been handed down for centuries), and competitors are graded on speed, power, balance and execution of movements.
“With her and anyone with a disability, it’s all about repetition,” master instructor Stephanie Buckner Combs said. “A lot of that falls on her in class time or private class or private training, but she has to do repetition on her own so she can improve her technique and do them better than the people she will compete with.”
Karate was a huge challenge for Jamie Druhan Green in the beginning, and although the repetition has made things easier over time, she said it’s still difficult, especially the higher she has moved up in belt rank.
That just makes her want to work harder, though.
“I have this natural fiery determination to work at it, and I believe it’s good to keep working at it and do what you’ve got to do to be successful,” Jamie Druhan Green said.
Combs has been working with Jamie Druhan Green for the past three years and has seen her blossom, especially in this last year. She looks forward to seeing her student continue to improve and excel.
“She’s gotten a lot more confidence since she started with the competition,” Combs said. “She is very witty. She’s one of those women that doesn’t want anything to get in her way, certainly not a disability. She is out to prove to her family and friends she can do anything she puts her mind to.”
That extends beyond karate, too. Jamie Druhan Green is scuba certified and volunteers at the Cincinnati Zoo, where she cleans the hippo and manatee tanks, and at Newport Aquarium.
She wants to make a documentary on manatees someday.
“She’s just an incredible individual,” Combs said.
For now, Jamie Druhan Green remains focused on karate. Last weekend, she went to a tournament in Chicago and also took first place, and she is proud of how far she has come in competition.
The prestigious WKF Para Karate World Championship will be contested by 13 women from 10 nations. After a trip to Morocco with her family this week, she will arrive in Madrid on Nov. 5. The para karate elimination rounds are Nov. 8, and the medal rounds will take place Nov. 10.
“Adrenaline has just been flowing through her,” Jamie Green said. “She did not expect this year to turn out as successfully as it has. She’s just been plugging away, and then the next thing you know she’s a national champion and that led to this world championship.
“She wants to perform to her peak ability. Her quote was she wants to represent her dojo, country and people with disabilities honorably, so we’re excited for her to get that opportunity.”
Perhaps someday she’ll be competing on an even bigger stage, Combs said.
“Her goal is to make it to the Para Olympics,” Combs said. “Anything is possible if she keeps working at it.”
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