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A Champion’s Fight

Saturday, April 19, 2003

The crowd is gathered tightly around Ring 2. The typical calls and cheers are a little louder than usual. The faces seem a little more intense. I wander down to the ring curious about what is happening. At a karate tournament we are fairly used to the tremendous energy and talent our young star performers have. We are used to looking out among the crowd and seeing a spinning body spring into the air, twist, kick and back down. Another stuck landing, another blinding combination… I really want to see what is generating this level of interest.

As I approach the ring, I realize that it is the Junior Black Belt Grand Championship round. Kids of all ages and sizes line the ring waiting for their chance to perform. They are all winners in their respective divisions and all very talented. In the ring is Miss Tori Andreozzi, a 12-year-old Black Belt. A petite young lady who is as intense and focused as any competitor of any rank or age that is in competition this day. Her form is flawless, stances low and rock solid, every movement calculated and crisp. She is a joy to watch.

I wait in anticipation as the judges calculate the scores. There are many champions in this round and with the level of competition present on this circuit nothing is ever easy or taken for granted. It is won or lost by the slightest slip-up, usually by a margin of a hundredth of a point.

Finally, the center referee announces that we have a tie. The tie is between Miss Andreozzi and her elder sibling Robbie Andreozzi. Robbie, who is a 14-year-old Black Belt rising star, has a résumé that includes many Grand Championships, State, National and World titles. One can only imagine at how much the younger Andreozzi has anticipated this day. The countless hours of practice, the numerous karate lessons, the patience of practicing a form over and over again until it is as nearly perfect as humanly possible. She finally has her big brother right where she wants him, he is in her sights, and he is her yardstick to measure up to.

I am waiting to see how this plays out. Will the judges have the competitors turn and they choose the winner by pointing in the direction of their pick? Or will they go again? Tori puts matters to rest as she strides over to her older brother, carefully looks him in the eye and states, “You and I are going again, buddy”. I love it. This kid has such great courage and determination! The competitors are back in the ring and though their styles are quite different I have to admit that they are both masterful. I am so proud as they proclaim Miss Andreozzi the winner, and it is obvious how very proud her older brother, and her parents are of her.

This was a great moment and I believe it would make a great story. It truly was a champion’s fight, but sadly this is neither the fight nor the end of this story. Tragically, a vehicle in a hit and run accident, struck young Tori Andreozzi on Wednesday, March 26th. Left for dead on the side of the road she never completed her daily walk home from the school bus drop. She was rushed to the hospital, unconscious, not breathing. We lost Tori at that time but the brilliant work of those special people who help us at the worst of times brought her back. She was transported to Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, listed in critical condition and giving little chance of surviving.

Still hospitalized, her family rarely leaves her side. And for the people who know the Andreozzi family we have sorely missed seeing them all together at the Don Rodrigues Karate Academy in Warwick, RI where Tori, Robbie and their mother Cathy have all achieved their Black Belts. Her mother Cathy, with her ever-present smile and kind words, is a help to anyone who asks. Robert Sr., quick with a joke or sage advice, is a friend to everyone. They spent many hours with their “family” at the karate school as they coached their children towards the pinnacle of the sport they love. With the exceptional family she has could Tori be anything but the exceptional kid she is?

And, did I mention this kid’s courage and determination? This kid is a fighter and she is still fighting. The ring is gone and the crowd is smaller but she fights on. Battling numerous fractures in her arms, legs, pelvis, and torso. And suffering through multiple operations as the surgeons try to restore her limbs, and that angelic face which was so cruelly injured by a 3000-pound machine in the hands of an allegedly impaired driver.

Unfortunately, the worst of the injuries is the hardest to repair. The brain is still largely a mystery even to the most brilliant of us all. And while we have no choice but to wait and see if her brain can heal we have seen the signs. Although she is thus far unable to speak and lacking of much motor function, when the tears come as her friends must leave at the end of visiting hours, or she displays obvious signs of discomfort when a certain nurse shows up, we know that Tori is still here.

She has a long road ahead with a burden that she shouldn’t have to bear, but one that may ultimately affect the quality of her entire life. I wish you all could have seen her at that tournament which seems so long ago now. I wish you could have watched the courage and determination, the strength of character, and the pride. She was a joy to watch. But most of all I wish that everyone does get to see it and that this special child wins her true champion’s fight.