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Great State: Olympic Dream: Cheerleader to Judo Gold

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MOORE, OKLAHOMA -- Saying goodbye makes a different sound at the USA Stars Gym in Moore.

Throwing someone to the mat repeatedly might also seem a strange kind of farewell.

But it's fitting for Kayla Chappell because that's all she's ever done on this floor.

"Yeah," she agrees. "That's 14 years now."

Kayla was seven the first time she walked into the Stars Gym, following her brothers to a wrestling class straight from a practice of her own.

Kayla recalls, "I actually had a big bow in my hair because I had been at cheerleader practice. I saw Judo and my dad wouldn't let me do wrestling at the time. I was like, 'I love it,' (judo). 'I want to do it.' And, immediately, I got into it and I loved it."

Chappell won her first tournament and didn't look back.

She says it seems like yesterday playing games to guess the flags of the different countries hanging from the ceiling.

Instead, it's been a 14 year climb from cheerleader to a world ranking in her weight class.

Describing what she loves about the sport, Kayla says, "It's the intensity, but I also just love the competition, that adrenaline rush you get right before competing. I mean, there's nothing else like it."

So on a Halloween morning, Chappell said goodbye to her home gym with a final series of throws.

At her house in Moore, she had a few thinks left to pack, but the trailer was already filled to capacity.

"Stuff would fall out it I tried to open it," she laughs.

Colorado Springs and the Olympic Training Center are Kayla's next stops.

Her goal, a top 14 world ranking, and a spot on the USA Team in 2016.

There is still so much up in the air, healing from a recent knee injury, and the search for sponsorship, but the charge she felt on the Stars mat growing up is still there.

"I don't want to just make the Olympics," she says. "I want to win."

Even with help from the U.S. Olympic Team, Kayla estimates she'll still need from $40,000 to $60,000 per year to compete internationally.

She has some local sponsorship but is looking for more.

If you'd like to help you can contact her at (405) 640-2852 or email