Tilly’s Story

Karate kick-starts future Olympic dreams

Karate brown belt Tilly McKirdle is edging closer to her dream of competing in the 2024 Olympics after placing fourth in the England squad last week.

Making the national karate squad has been a dream come true for the 11-year-old who competed in the Holland Battle of the Teams karate tournament on December 2. “I was so shocked,” Tilly said, upon hearing she had been selected by the committee.

Being in the youngest team didn’t put off Tilly and her team mates, despite the challenges.

“It definitely helped because I was more determined,” Tilly said. “The best part was when I first got on the mat and got a massive adrenaline rush. I was thinking that I have to win this.”

Tilly and her sister Freya, 15, began training 6 years ago and fought on despite many challenges, including coping with the loss of their father, Scott, three years ago.

“He always bought karate books and might have wanted to try it himself,” Tilly said. “I think he’d be amazed if he knew. He’d say ‘that’s my wee girl,’ in his Scottish accent.”

By inheriting their father’s Scottish ancestry, Tilly and Freya have felt his support even after his death through Scotscare, the charity that supports Scottish people and families in Greater London, which has provided Tilly’s flights and accommodation for the Holland tournament.

The sisters also receive regular Scotscare funding for Freya’s karate training, and to support Tilly’s other passion, drama and dance, which she studies and competes in through Jigsaw Arts in Ware.

Sensei Chelsea Sydes of Pro-Karate Academy said Tilly was a determined fighter looking to represent England at the 2024 Olympics when she is 14 and old enough to compete.

“It’s hard so we’ll see, but she’s really determined,” she said. “She’s doing fantastic for an 11-year-old student. She’s got a fighting spirit so she’s doing well.”

Karate requires focus and while challenging, is also fun, Tilly said.

Despite coming fourth, just missing out on a bronze medal by two points, Tilly is more determined than ever to keep training alongside her sister, Freya, with only a short break over Christmas before her next fight in January.

Representing England by age 11 was “a dream” for Tilly, who envisaged standing next to famous fighters “who I’ve always looked up to, and thinking ‘I could be like them’.”

Tilly credits her sister Freya as an inspiration and “such a good fighter”. “She’s so dedicated to everything she does, even in school. If I get stuck on something she’ll come and help me and I’d do the same for her because that’s what sisters are for. We’re competitive in a jokey way. Sometimes it can be annoying but we love each other. I hope we’re always together.”