Karate Saved My Life
by Charla A. Wardley
Everybody that takes karate has a story about how karate saved their life. Karate has definitely gotten me out of a few jams. For instance, if I didn't balance just right I would have fallen in and gotten all wet, or when I did fall, it didn't hurt as much, or being out at night and having my keys ready, looking behind and in between cars and in my backseat before I get in, to just being alert to my surroundings. However, I have to tell you (the reader) about the day karate truly saved my life.
My name is Charla Wardley, 38 years young, and the scariest but most miraculous moment in my life happened Saturday, April 12, 2008, approximately around 4:00p.m. My boyfriend (Jim Alley) and I went to Harold Long's Memorial tournament hosted by Joe Laney to show support for all karate-ka, but mainly for the Wheeler's competition team. It was near the end of the day and we (me, Jim and good buddy What's Up Chuck) were watching the continuous fighting from the stands and cheering on Danny Potts, and Jason Russell, when I started feeling odd. I told Jim my left arm was going numb and it started to burn real bad then I felt sick to my stomach, and that is all I remember until I woke up in the hospital around 3:00a.m. Sunday morning.
From the different stories I have pieced together, it goes something like this: Jim asked Chuck to help me down to the floor, Chuck noticed that my skin was a blue color except for my right ear which was bright red, he was asking me questions but said I was just not there. Jim knew there was a medic somewhere on the floor when Dr. Pam Mobley saw me. She instantly knew that something was very wrong and guided me around to the side of the bleachers and laid me down on the floor, called 911 or told someone to call. Dr. Ed Mobley came over and started asking me questions, they said I was crying and saying "Am I in trouble?, am I in trouble?" and all of a sudden I went into a seizure. A very tense, massive seizure. Dr. Ed yelled, " call 911 again and get them here immediately!, "
The paramedics got there while I was still in the seizure and administered some medication to try to control it. As the seizure subsided, I went into cardiac arrest, and for 2 minutes I underwent CPR until the greatest medical team ever (Drs. Pam and Ed Mobley, not only one but two anesthesiologists) brought me back to life (that gives me chills every time I say that). Dr. Ed stabilized me with I.V. fluids, put me in the ambulance and watched over me all the way to UT hospital. Hours later, I was diagnosed with a rare disease, Brain Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM).
As I started to wrap my head around what happened to me (all I can remember is telling Jim I'm sick, to waking up in the hospital) I started thinking about the in between time and what it was like for Jim, and how very traumatic it was for him to watch me die, and praying to please come back. I can't imagine his pain, fear, and sense of helplessness. Then there was What's Up Chuck, he was right behind me, it had to be traumatic for him, my sensei Chuck Reynolds, he was right there next to Jim, how traumatic for him, then all my friends, instructors, karate family, children, parents, grandparents, how traumatic for all of them to witness something like that. Not to mention my dad and mom, my brother and sister-in-law had to see me lying there on a respirator in CCU not knowing what happened. My sister drove from California to Tennessee in 30 hours with no idea either. It was all kind of a shock. I consider myself fairly healthy, never really been sick, the only time I was in the hospital was to give birth to my son, I heal from physical injuries pretty quick, hardly ever catch colds, so for me to be there one minute and the next minute I was not, is all very traumatic to everyone. That is why I want to talk about it and tell everyone what happened and what will happen in the future.
But first, a brief background of my life in karate. I started Isshin-ryu karate in 1989 for a P.E. credit at Maryville College under the instruction of Bruce Guillaume. I loved karate so much I went twice a week, 2 hours a night until I graduated from college in 1992 and moved to Nashville. There, I joined Isshin-ryu Team Nashville under Butch Hill for little less than a year, then moved to Murfreesboro to work on a Master's degree in recreation at MTSU. I graduated December 1995 and gave birth to my son, Hunter, February 1996.
For years, I had been looking for a dojo, and trying to figure out what to do when I grow up, when in 1999 I saw an ad in the paper for a martial artist instructor with training provided. Immediately I called and got an interview. The interview was a cardio-kickboxing class (Te-Geri) with about 30 other interviewees; 4 of us were selected and there I started my training under David Deaton in Wado-ryu karate (similar to Isshin-ryu) in his accelerated program. For 4 months, I drove an hour there, an hour home, and trained very hard for 22 hours a week until I tested in front of the board and earned a black belt. Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, I was unable to take the instructor job, but that kind of training sticks with you forever.
I finally got wise and moved back to Knoxville (Powell) to work in the family business of real estate and lucky me moved 5 minutes from the greatest dojo I have ever walked into. I know everyone has to think that about the school they attend, but I got to tell you (the reader), the exact moment I walked into Wheeler's School of Karate in November 2003 and Chuck Reynolds greeted me at the door, I knew I was home and there forever. Immediately, I felt the magic in the air and the more I went class and found out all the stuff that was offered; regular class, self defense class, sparring class, ladies sparring class, arnis class, Friday night pressure point class with the Big Dogs, Sunday open class with the Big Dogs, annual OKU seminars, Jim Alley's kyusho-jutsu seminars, cardio class and ju-jitsu, it blew my mind. I found a hidden treasure chest nestled in downtown Powell, and that is just how I felt about it! Of course buried in that treasure chest, I discovered the love of my life, Jim Alley. He has been absolutely the greatest, and I do not know what I would do without him.
Anyway, after 31/2 years of instruction from sensei Chuck Reynolds, Danny Potts, Marissa Rollins, David Robison, all the Big Dogs (including Jim), all the black belts (way too many to name) all my piers (because they teach you to), I earned a black belt in June 2007. For all the people that have never seen or participated in a Wheeler's black belt test, it is by far the hardest test I have ever taken in my life. My body felt like a truck ran over it for at least a week. After that, I went back fairly regularly, until the past 4-5 months I just gradually stopped going, not sure why really, but I was pumping myself up to get back in class. The hardest thing in the world was to see Mr. Reynolds again. I'm sure he didn't feel like this, but I felt that I've disappointed him and that made me feel worse. Jim was trying real hard to get me back to class as well, and the day of the tournament he made me go. "Time to suck it up," he said.
I have talked about how my karate boyfriend drove me to a karate event in which my karate family saved my life, but I also want to talk about that other part of karate that saved my life. The part that instills self discipline, endurance, determination, integrity, strong mentality, focus, self confidence, self worth, sense of belonging, physical fitness, just being strong with mind and body.
Sunday afternoon, when Dr. Pam Mobley came to check on me in the hospital, she asked if I was sore because of the 2 minutes worth of CPR, and at the time I didn't notice. However the next day, I felt sore but it just felt like I did a bunch of sit-ups. I believe karate made me strong physically and strong mentally, especially the last four years of my training. One of the things I kept thinking about over and over when I woke up was something Chuck Reynolds said right before the sparring part of my black belt test, (not so exact words) "This is an unfair test, and we (instructors) know it is unfair, but we are going to fight you like you have never been fought, so I want you to fight back, don't give up and show me your will to survive." I believe that unknowingly, my sensei, Chuck Reynolds and Wheeler's School of Karate, prepared me for what was actually the hardest test of my life. Fight back, don't give up and have the will to survive. Good words to remember.
Unfortunately, the doctors said no more karate, at least at full speed and power. I could never give up karate, just got to take it easy now. The doctors at UT hospital referred me to doctors in Indiana for treatment and we are just waiting to hear back from them. I am on seizure medicine and have to wait 6 months before I can drive, but there is no damage other than a little short term memory loss and 'they' say that is temporary. As far as treatment goes, it could be a long road, but I know I can fight back, I will never give up and I have a very strong will to survive!
Here is a website if you are interested in learning what an AVM is:
Then click on animated version of AVM. Very cool explanation.
I would also like to thank everyone for their prayers and positive thoughts for me and my family and as soon as I hear from the doctors, I will let you know.