By Anna-Marie Menhenott
ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- With determination, anything is possible. And, for two St. Lucie County women, determination has led them toward a goal neither of them expected: receiving their black belts in karate.
Under the guidance of Master Fred LaSala, Laurie Keahey and Mary Hills have accomplished more goals than they ever imagined.
Ms. Hills is a 49-year old mother, wife, lawyer and two-time breast cancer survivor. Her desire to overcome physical ailments led her to follow in her family's footsteps and begin taking karate classes.
"My husband and sons all take martial arts lessons, so I was here at the Dojo all the time," said Ms. HIlls. "My goal was to get stronger after dealing with health issues. I promised to only do as much as I could and not to try and keep up with others. But, I surprised myself."
Ms. Keahey, who recently turned 60, received her black belt after years of classes and lessons. When she's not hard at work on the mat perfecting her craft, she works full time as a house keeper and participates in flag worship at Master LaSala's church.
"I really missed my grandchildren," Ms. Keahey explained. "Being at the Dojo and around all the children helps me not miss them quite as much. I received my yellow belt in 2005 and since then I've been working toward this goal."
Ms. Keahey has also faced health issues including an injury while training for her green belt in 2007.
"The important thing is to not give up," Ms. Keahey said. "With the encouragement we receive at the center, and the Bible study and amazing teachers, anything is possible."
Master LaSala has been teaching traditional karate in the area for 25 years. He is a seventh degree black belt and has passed the art of teaching on to his son, Chris.
"My whole family is intertwined in the karate field," said Master LaSala. "My son, Chris, is a fifth degree black belt and my wife and grandchildren are also trained. Laurie and Mary are examples of what we're all about. We don't give up and we set goals for ourselves which are high and reach for them and attain them. These ladies are inspiring."
Also inspiring are the list of accolades that Master LaSala and his Dojo have. Master LaSala is a five-time world champion and a Master in the art of Tai Chuan Do Karate. He is the head instructor of LaSala's Dojo and Karate for Christ Ministries and is also a pastor, holding non-denominational services at Midway Road Baptist Church.
His Dojo has received nearly 50 state championship titles in self-defense, fighting, kata, weapons, submission grappling and breaking.
"We offer a lot of different classes at the Dojo," said Master LaSala. "There are self-defense classes for women and kickboxing that offers full body workouts. Children as young as four can take karate lessons. We expect hard work, but the spiritual and personal growth is worth it."
For more information about LaSala's Dojo, call (772) 332-0101.