Bella’s Black Belt

Every karate black belt is special.

Bella Rizzi’s is just a little more special than most.

Bella is a freshman with Down syndrome at Staples. Her parents raised her to know that she can achieve anything she puts her mind to.

For the past 6 years she’s studied at Kempo Academy of Martial Arts in the back of Compo Acres Shopping Center, between Soul Cycle and Chipotle. The instructors demanded the same from her as everyone else in the dojo.

Bella Rizzi, warming up.

Bella Rizzi, warming up.

At times — like everyone else — Bella got discouraged. Some of her classmates dropped out. Bella stuck it out.

She got through the tough times. She learned to work hard, and dream of earning that faraway black belt.

Many mornings before school, her parents — John and Markley — heard Bella hitting the punching bag.

Twelve belts precede the adult black belt. Each one presents its own unique difficulty. Bella earned all 12.

Last Sunday’s test was grueling. For over 3 hours Bella sparred, and recited more than 27 combinations of exercises.

The last hour took place outside, at Compo Beach. Three candidates performed their tests, wearing only their lightweight gi garments.

The wind blew. Most people watching were bundled up — or stayed in their cars.

Bella Rizzi prepares for her final black belt test, last Sunday at a very cold Compo Beach.

Bella Rizzi prepares for her final black belt test, last Sunday at a very cold Compo Beach.

To get to that point of karate, Bella had learned to block out all distractions, and focus only on the task at hand. She and the other 2 candidates had so much resolve, they did not feel the cold.

Bella was pushed to her limits. But that was not the first time. She’d been bloodied, humiliated, bruised and battered. Through it all, she never wavered from her goal.

On Sunday, Bella became an adult black belt. Fewer than 1% of all martial arts students attain that level.

She and the 2 other candidates — Max Bonehill and Kyle Ehrlich — had broad smiles. They’d created a bond that will last forever. And they’d made their dreams come true.

Bella is not finished with karate — not by a long shot. Recently, the dojo asked her to be a junior sensei. She is now teaching what she has learned.

Bella Rizzi: black belt!

Bella Rizzi: black belt!

Karate is a meritocracy. All students are respected for their rank. They wear their accomplishments on their belt. They don’t brag about it.

Bella is not a bragger anyway. But everyone in  Westport should know about her remarkable accomplishment.

Actually, her accomplishments — plural. She has written and published a book, “Time Travel Girls,” about being open to new opportunities. She has modeled for Girl Scouts of America.

Bella is only in 9th grade. She has a long way to go, and much more to achieve.

But the next time you see her — at a Staples event, writing in the library or running at Wakeman — give her a high five.

No one in Westport deserves it more.

34 responses to “Bella’s Black Belt

  1. Wow! Extraordinary!!! I know how hard it is to accomplish that. Bella is a great athlete. She is on our Westport Winners Challenger team and can really smack a baseball! Kudos to Bella and her amazing parents.

  2. Adam Vengrow

    absolutely awesome thanks for sharing

  3. Nadine Tanen

    Congratulations Bella on this fantastic accomplishment! You have been incredibly hard working and dedicated to karate for a long time – this is well deserved.

  4. Bella, the entire town is proud of you. It’s a wonderful accomplishment! You go, girl!!

  5. Julie Van Norden

    Yay Bella! What an awesome accomplishment!

  6. Michele Wrubel


  7. Ilene Mirkine

    Congratulations on this wonderful achievement, Bella!

  8. Nicole Klein

    Fanstastic! GOOOO Bella and dont ever stop!!!! XO

  9. Ellen Lautenberg

    Huge accomplishment for any child that age OR any adult! Bella should be extremely proud and will always have this experience to keep her feeling strong when dealing with any adversity. Congrats to Bella!

  10. Amazing achievement Bella! Congratulations!!!

  11. Linda Whitney at Staples


    I have many friends who are Down Syndrome girls and boys, now men and women from being a Special Olympics Coach and a PT in schools and even with babies. Some of my friends even became cheerleaders in junior high/middle school!! That was tough hard work!!!

    You have used the determination part of Down Syndrome ( a good thing to help you but some people wrongly call it obstinance) to its best advantage!!
    Now you are telling the WHOLE WORLD that a person can do ANYTHING they are determined to if they STICK TO IT through thick and thin- through physical AND mental challenges (when you want to give up)!
    You are not only a super athlete, you are a super teacher!!

    KEEP ON!!!
    Maybe you can work with Special Needs Children when you grow up. Many people who are good at it and determined are needed now and will be needed in the future. And YOU WOULD BE GREAT!!

    I have to say, I bet your folks are VERY COOL!!
    Congratulations to you, your sensae, your family, and your Village- Westport.!!!’

  12. Rindy Higgins

    What an extraordinary inspiration!

  13. How proud you can be of this great accomplishment! A wonderful story!

  14. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    Fantastic! Bella you are a champion through and through. I’m sharing this post with my daughter in love who works with Special Olympics in Montana and is a recreational therapist. She will cheer you on from Montana and share your success with her friends.

  15. Way to go Bella!!! Congrats 🙂

  16. Carmel Keaveney

    That is some accomplishment Bella. So proud of you. Congratulations from Bedford Nurses office. We miss your smiling face and your joyful spirit around here!! You inspire us all!

  17. Way to go Bella!

  18. Joey Demattio

    Way To Go Bella Rizzi

  19. Michelle Ludel

    Incredible accomplishment Bella!!

  20. Joey Wallace

    Black Belt is forever

  21. Deborah Findley

    Well done Bella. Mrs. Keaveney has already written a note telling you how much we miss your beautiful smile and joyful spirit in the Bedford Middle School Nurse’s office, and I want to second that! Your accomplishment is a reminder to us all of what can be achieved through commitment, hard work and perseverance!

  22. Karen Stone

    Bravo Bella !!!

  23. Rob Bolandian

    What an amazing story. Congratulations Bella! Amazing, amazing accomplishments!

  24. Bella, congratulations! You take my breath away!

  25. Danielle Natarajan

    Bella, you are an inspiration! Congratulations on this very amazing achievement.

  26. Donna Rizzi Lysobey

    Bella Rizzi,you are one of a kind! Yahoooo!!!

  27. Ciao Bella!! so wonderful!

  28. Jennings Family

    Wonderful to read – sincere congratulations –
    Now we know where the power behind some of those
    Winner hits comes from !!!
    Truly Inspiring.

  29. Jennifer Cousins

    She always put a smile on my face 🙂 what an inspiration to us all!

  30. Chris Garrity

    Congratulations, Bella! I was so happy to read about your Black Belt all the way out here in California, and am so glad you will be continuing as a teacher. I miss seeing you in the Staples Library.
    Mrs, Garrity

  31. Way To Go Bella!!!! Congrats on this amazing accomplishment!!!!

  32. Marguerite Franco

    What a special person; Bella is truly an inspiration for us all!

  33. What a winner this girl is! If you know her parents, you’ll see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

  34. Wow, this article has made my day. What an inspiration. Bella, no one can take it away from you.