ST. GEORGE — St. George resident Wayne Erickson, at 77-years-old, has the distinction of being a cancer survivor with a black belt in karate.
“I decided to go for the black belt, and right after that I found out I had cancer,” Erickson told St. George News. “Once I started the training, I didn’t want to stop to take a year off because I thought I might be dead before I got my black belt.”
“I didn’t really have the option of delaying,” he added. “I kept training while I underwent chemotherapy. I just kept going, and the cancer was cured.”
Erickson said he started karate a couple of years ago when his nephew and family got into the martial arts.
“I decided that I would go along with them just to keep them company,” Erickson said. “One thing led to another and soon I was taking lessons, and I decided to go for the black belt.”
As he ages, Erickson said it’s more and more important for him to be mentally and physically active.
“I’m very involved with music, that’s good for mental stimulation,” he said, adding that he plays the organ during Ward and Stake meetings for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“And for mental focus and physical health, I took up karate,” Erickson said. “So at 77 I’m in pretty good shape even as a cancer survivor.”
Erickson was most interested in learning the focus and discipline martial arts training provides, but he said it has other benefits.
“The self-defense part of it is good. Being at my age somebody might see me as a victim, and now he will think twice,” he said. “I wouldn’t be frightened in that kind of a situation at all.”
Earning his black belt was a two-year process that involved tests in front of three different boards, at the local, regional and state levels. The last was a tournament in Orem Nov. 13, when he was awarded the black belt.
“It was challenging,” Erickson said. “I’ve had a number of people come up and tell me that they wanted to start karate but felt like they were too old. You’re never too old. They said I was an inspiration to them, and they changed their mind and tried it.”
Marc Wilson, karate instructor at Bobby Lawrence Karate St. George at 1397 W Sunset Blvd #105, was the master who awarded Erickson his black belt at the event in Orem.
“It’s really special when someone as dedicated as Wayne earns that black belt,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t easy for him, that’s for sure, but it felt awesome to see him get rewarded for his hard work.”
Wilson said that Erickson is the oldest student he’s ever taught who earned a black belt, and he was impressed early on by Erickson’s attitude and effort.
“I didn’t even know he was going through chemo until I saw him in a Facebook post at the Huntsman Cancer Institute,” Wilson said. “When I saw him later that day and mentioned it he said, ‘It’s life. You just live it.’ It’s amazing, really. He’s an inspiration to me and to our studio.”
Wilson also believes that Erickson’s story shows that other seniors can learn karate.
“You can do anything at any age, you just have to put in the hard work,” Wilson said. “Wayne never shied away from the hard work and I think it shows you can do anything you’re willing to work hard for.”
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