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Seventh-grader wins world junior disc golf championship

by: COURTESY PHOTO: FRED JOE - Michelle Nava fires a disc during training for disc golf. Nava, 13, a seventh-grader at Brown Elementary School, won the junior disc golf championship in Kansas last summer.Like many girls her age, Michelle Nava talks fast and laughs easily. She loves to draw, craft, read and spend time with friends. A seventh-grader at R.A. Brown Middle School in Hillsboro, Nava celebrated her 13th birthday last fall, and recently took up volleyball.

But one special thing sets Nava apart: She happens to be a world champion disc golfer. Last summer at the junior championships in Kansas, Nava dominated her age group, finishing 40 strokes ahead of the runner-up.

And in September, Nava placed second in the intermediate women’s division at the 2013 U.S. Women’s Disc Golf Championship. The competition was held at Pier Park in North Portland and at the Blue Lake Regional Park in Fairview — Nava’s old stomping grounds. When she was learning the sport, her older brothers used to take her to Blue Lake.

Completed in 2012, the course is certified gold-level by the Professional Disc Golf Association for its combination of length, difficulty, equipment and design. It attracts international competitions, yet it’s also open to beginners, with each player vying to reach 18 targets in the fewest throws possible.

From an athlete’s standpoint, Nava said, the layout is amazing.

“My favorite part of Blue Lake is how much land there is, how long each hole is,” she said. “It’s one of the biggest courses in Oregon.”

Nava’s father, Luis, said the course prepared his daughter to compete at an international level. During the championship round, she received advice from the sport’s biggest names.

“I was close to crying,” Nava said, “because these were the people I saw on YouTube, and now they all know me.”by: COURTESY PHOTO: FRED JOE - Michelle Nava frequently practices disc golf with her family, including (from left) her father, Luis Nava, brothers Andrew Nava and Luis Nava Jr. and niece Kiyari Nava.

For the Nava family, disc golf is more than a sport — it’s also a bond. Michelle credits her success to her big brothers, one of whom placed seventh in the advanced men’s division. The siblings practice together almost daily.

“They’re married; they have kids; they don’t live close,” Nava said. “If it wasn’t for disc golf, I wouldn’t be seeing them at all.”

Dad has a front row seat. Last summer, while Luis Nava watched his daughter play at local parks, he noticed how she taught other golfers — kids and adults alike.

“I was very excited, doing that with her. She’s learning how to do community service; how to do service for other people,” Luis Nava said. “It’s something that she loves.”

Another thing that caught his attention: the way the sport brings people together. As he sees it, disc golf is cheap, easy and inclusive.

“I saw entire families playing,” Luis said. “That’s something you can’t do with other sports.”

Luis was so impressed, he decided he would learn how to play. He borrowed old discs from his kids and got out on the course.

Nava said her dad is doing well for a beginner. To hear her talk about disc golf, you could easily mistake her for somebody much older. She’s articulate and focused, and has a clear grasp of her ability and drive. In reality, she’s a kid who just entered middle school, years younger than most people who are serious in her sport.

Nava said she enjoys the looks on adults’ faces when they realize her skill level.

“They’re surprised when I teach them something new,” she said.

Luis Nava has mixed feelings about his daughter competing with grown women.

by: COURTESY PHOTO: FRED JOE - Michelle Nava fires a disc during training for disc golf. Nava, 13, a seventh-grader at Brown Elementary School, won the junior disc golf championship in Kansas last summer.“She’ll be in categories like ‘women intermediate; women advanced,’” Luis said. “I don’t like too much how she’s maturing beyond her age, but on the other hand, she’s getting better and better. It’s amazing how she’s advancing.”

Nava said she loves taking her friends to the disc golf course, and she’s trying to get more kids from her school to start playing.

“They’re all doing things like hip-hop and basketball, and I’m practicing disc golf four or five days a week,” she said.

But Nava recognizes that, given her talent and age, she has a serious shot at a future in the sport she loves.

“I see it being a part of my life forever. I want to go touring. I see my idols winning these big tournaments. I want that to be me one day,” Nava said. “If I just keep practicing, I can get there.”

This story originally appeared in “Our Big Backyard,” Metro’s quarterly magazine about parks, trails, natural areas and other regional topics. The Hillsboro Tribune is reprinting it with permission. To read more news from Metro, visit oregonmetro.gov/news.

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