Eight years ago, the McLymore household decided to try karate as a family outing.
Kenneth McLymore Sr., his wife Michelle and their four children – Kenneth Jr., twins Jasmine and Jalen, and Michael – entered the dojo of sensai Mohsen Mahmoud in Cary.
Five of the six family members stepped onto the mat to warm up; Kenneth Jr., who was 9 at the time, took a seat.
“I just watched,” said Kenneth Jr., now a rising senior at Cary High School. “I was really into basketball and didn’t want to do anything else. I didn’t really want to go.”
But he was quickly smitten with the sport’s speed and sparring. Speed was his calling card as a basketball point guard.
On the family’s second karate outing, Kenneth Jr. was first on the mat. And a single workout was all Mahmoud needed to realize he had a natural talent on his hands.
McLymore recently enjoyed a breakthrough moment. He earned a bronze medal in kumite (sparring) at the USA Karate Junior National Championships on July 13 in Reno, Nev. McLymore, a 5-foot-9, 130-pounder, competed in the 61-kilo division (134 pounds) for the 16-17 age group.
He had to win a third-place showdown to claim the bronze medal. The match ended in a tied score, but five judges declared him the winner by decision.
“I was afraid I lost,” McLymore said. “When I won I was really excited and hugged my sensai.”
Only the top two earned bids to the Pan Am Junior Games Aug. 25-31 in Peru, but McLymore’s third-place finish makes him the No. 1 alternate if one of the two ahead of him is unable to travel.
However, missing out on an automatic bid won’t discourage McLymore. A loss in his first USA Karate national competition motivated him to this point.
“When I lost, I knew there was stuff I had to work on,” McLymore said. “But I also felt there wasn’t that much separating me from No. 1.”
Mahmoud, who has been teaching karate in Cary for nine years, is a former Egyptian national team member with medals from world competitions.
“I knew he was going to be something special,” he said of Kenneth Jr. “He has speed. He is very serious in class. I believe one day he can be No. 1 in the United States.”
McLymore says he doesn’t feel pressure to fulfill Mahmoud’s projections. He has confidence that transfers his speed in more forms than most opponents.
“You can’t have just a fast right arm,” he explained. “You have to have complete body speed and explosiveness.”
Now he says he has the drive to climb from bronze to gold.
In other competition at Reno, McLymore also claimed a bronze medal in weapons, but only black belts in kumite were part of the Junior Pan Am Games qualifying.
Three other students from Mahmoud’s Shotokon Karate dojo who are still working toward a black belt earned medals.
Daniel Puertolos, a 15-year-old rising sophomore at Raleigh Charter School, won silver in weapons and bronze in kumite.
Clayton’s Cameron Marquess, a 14-year-old rising sophomore at Cleveland High, won silver in weapons and silver in kumite team. His 12-year-old brother, Dakota Marquess, a rising seventh-grader at Cleveland Middle School, won gold in weapons.
In addition, Mahmoud, a 30-year karate veteran, won his fifth USA national title while competing in kata (form) in a senior division.