APSU junior Brinna Lavelle to represent Team USA, university at international games
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APSU junior Brinna Lavelle to represent Team USA, school at international games

APSU junior Brinna Lavelle will represent Team USA and the university later this month at the FISU America Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

You need only a few minutes with Brinna Lavelle to know why she’s a world-class judo athlete representing Team USA and Austin Peay State University this month in Brazil. 

Her attitude might be more powerful than her hip throws.

Lavelle trains six days a week. She runs and lifts weights. She fights. And she travels on weekends to faraway cities like Chicago and Miami to train with Olympians and judo sensei.

But she’s also a full-time junior at Austin Peay, majoring in biology with a concentration in pre-veterinary medicine. 

“We’ll drive to Miami,” dad David Lavelle said. “She’ll train. We’ll drive back and get back here by 8 o’clock Monday morning, and by 9:30 she’s back in class. She works really hard.”

And that’s where Brinna’s attitude shines, and how it has lifted her to Team USA and to the International University Sports Federation (FISU) America Games in Sao Paulo.

“If I want something, I really have to work for it,” she said, her smile bolstering the truth in the statement.

Brinna’s attitude was on full display recently as she struggled through a zoology class. The professor was tough on her, she said. 

“But then I realized this is what life is about, I have to put in the work and push myself fully to get the grade that I want, so I worked really hard, and I pulled out an A.”

Lavelle grapples with MiMi Bowen at Bowen Combative Arts Academy in Clarksville. Lavelle trains six days a week and travels on weekends for master-level coaching.

Brinna, 20, has been working hard at judo since she was 3, after her military dad settled the family in Clarksville. She started competing nationally and internationally when she was 12.

“My dad originally made me do judo when I was little to defend myself because he knew I’d be small,” she said. “And I didn’t want to do it, but I’ve come to love it ever since the first couple of classes.

“I’ve done it all my life. It’s all I’ve ever known. I love it.”

Brinna qualified for FISU America Games by finishing second in the 52-kilogram class in March at the National Collegiate Judo Association championships. Collegiate athletes from North and South America compete in the games, which are like the Pan American Games.

Lavelle spars with MiMi Bowen at Bowen Combative Arts Academy in Clarksville. Lavelle has been in judo since she was three.

“I think I have good chances,” she said with a chuckle. “I’ve trained really hard.”

And the odds are good for her. She’s won gold at the Junior Olympics and at the U.S. Judo Association Nationals. She was ranked 19th in the world before moving up in weight class. 

If Brinna does well in Brazil, she’ll think about trying for the Olympics in 2024. Before then she has to focus on being a student and getting a veterinarian degree.

Lavelle receives instruction from her local coach, dad David Lavelle.

“I’d have to make a decision whether to pursue my academic or my athletic (career),” she said.

Brinna travels the country to get high-level training. Her head coach, three-time Olympian Celita Schutz, lives in New Jersey. She also gets coaching from sensei Yoichiro Matsumura, Schutz’s longtime coach.

Locally her dad coaches her. He served in special operations at Fort Campbell before becoming a physician assistant for the 101st Airborne Division. He retired after 20 years of service to be with his family, and they’ve lived in Clarksville since. He works at Fort Campbell’s Intrepid Spirit Center, which specializes in traumatic brain injuries.

Brinna’s gofundme.com page

Brinna isn’t far from her $5,000 gofundme.com goal to pay for the trip. You can help her by donating at www.gofundme.com/brinna039s-america-games-judo-trip

FISU America Games

The games are July 20-29 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The judo competition is July 22-25. Other sports include basketball, soccer, swimming, tennis, volleyball and track and field. For more information, visit www.usateam.org/fisu-america.