Following her every move

Former champion works with potential winner


By Ed Richards
Daily Press

July 8, 2003

YORKTOWN -- Sandy Petitto, the owner and chief instructor of Petitto's Black Belt Academy in Yorktown, knows what it takes to win a world championship in taekwondo. She did it in sparring three years ago. Now she has a student, 12-year-old Sarah Wister, who has the makings of a world champ - natural talent, tenacity, determination and the work ethic of a perfectionist. While it took Petitto close to 12 years to accomplish her feat, Wister recently came close to becoming an American Taekwondo Association world champion in only three years. But Wister fell short by losing a three-way tiebreaker for first place in weapons on the opening day of the ATA World Championships in Little Rock, Ark., June 13. The competition was open only to those who had finished the year in the top 10 in the world rankings. "I think the difference was their freestyle part of the tiebreaker was much fancier than mine," Wister said. "The person who placed first had a lot of creativity."

A rising seventh-grader at Grafton Middle School, Wister, ranked No. 4 in weapons, was competing in the first-degree black belt division for ages 11-13. "It was close. Sometimes it just depends on what the judges are looking for that day," Petitto said. "Overall, Sarah did fabulous because she was competing in that division for the first time. It's very strong, very difficult, and very competitive with 300 to 400 kids in it throughout the world." Petitto, 37, a fourth-degree black belt, also competed in the top 10 part of the World Championship, placing third in forms in the 30-39 age division. Petitto, 5-2 and 135 pounds, also competed in sparring but lost 2-1 in her opening match. The three-day tournament, which attracted close to 6,000 competitors and 30,000 fans to the Little Rock Convention Center, also launched a new World Championship season during the final two days. Both Wister and Petitto did better in this competition.

Wister, 5 feet and 95 pounds, received her second-degree black belt just before going to Little Rock. She won the sparring and weapons divisions and placed second in forms. "She got a fantastic jump for the 2004 season," said Petitto, who also placed first in forms in the regular competition. Wister, a Harry Potter fan who excels at computer video games, has been a special student since joining Petitto's Academy three years ago. "I had been wanting to do it since I was 7," she said. "I saw how cool it was after watching movies and stuff like 'The Karate Kid' on TV."

She also motivated the remainder of her family to join, too. That included her sister, Kiana, now a 9-year-old first-degree black belt, her father Dale, a certified taekwondo instructor, and her mother, Luci, office manager at the academy for more than two years. Her dad said Sarah has always been a talented athlete. She played baseball in the 9-10 York County Little League and likes taking on her dad in basketball. As for martial arts, her dad said "we don't have to push her, and she loves teaching other kids."

Wister has been a winner from the beginning, and that includes a championship in forms in the recent spring nationals in Las Vegas. Wister is determined to excel. "My goal is to become a world champion, not just a third place," she said.

Ed Richards can be reached at 247-4645 or by e-mail at erichards@dailypress.com

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Edited by - kungfoolss on July 09 2003 01:15:41