Utah woman wins gold in global martial arts competition, despite being born deaf

Posted at 11:01 PM, Aug 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-02 10:40:22-04

[Editor's Note: Safarri Jessop's interview with FOX 13 was facilitated by a sign language interpreter.]

SPRINGVILLE, Utah — Some kids pick up a sport by following in their parents' footsteps. Others take an interest in sports after attending a game. In 22-year-old Safarri Jessop's case, it was watching a movie that planted the seed. Jessop was born deaf, but that hasn't stopped her from becoming a martial arts champion.

"When I was a young girl, I watched 'Karate Kid' for the first time and I realized that I wanted to be a black belt," Jessop said.

Safarri's mother, Utahna Jessop, encouraged Safarri to learn to protect herself.

"We had hoped, being deaf, that we could get her into a self-defense program. It's just a good idea with deaf children. She loved it so much that she picked up swords and the hapkido," Utahna Jessop said.

In 2007, Jessop began training at Springville Self-Defense Leadership Academy. Four years later, she was competing at the national level.

"We thought 'Okay, so how is this going to work? She's here on the floor. How are we going to communicate?' And she just followed along. There was no glitches. She just paid attention to everything and was a stellar student," said Allen Hughes, owner of Springville Self-Defense Leadership Academy.

Last month, Safarri made it to the PanAm Mulimpia, a global martial arts competition in Las Vegas. There, Safarri competed in many different martial arts categories and earned a gold medal in sword fighting, along with several other medals.

"It was really intense because the judges were very picky. I was really nervous," Safarri said.

But Safarri kept a calm demeanor, making the competition easier on her mother.

"Parents get all nervous about these things, and that's what was so amazing was watching her so cool and collected and she knew what she was doing. She was focused, and it's fantastic to watch your kids just accomplish, like, what she has," Utahna Jessop said.

Safarri hopes to one day open her own self-defense school, and even has dreams of competitive weightlifting and MMA fighting.