CLOCKWISE TOP LEFT: DOUGLAS FORBES, 16; CC KAPLAN, 12; ARIA BEVACQUA, 11; KAI YUDELSON, 16; KAILEY BOGART, 13; IZYAN AHMAD, 8
Look out Roger Federer, Michelle Wie, Alex Ovechkin, and Chloe Kim… the next generation of superstar athletes is comin’ for ya! CC Kaplan, Izyan Ahmad, Aria Bevacqua, Kai Yudelson, Kailey Bogart, and Douglas Forbes: though these 6 young athletes are different ages, gender, and compete in different sports, what they share is an unrelenting passion and dedication to their pursuit.
They train for hours a day like professional athletes, but unlike professional athletes they still have school and homework to do. It makes for a jam-packed daily life many grown-ups couldn’t handle. They’re at practice before their peers wake up and starting homework when most are going to bed. So why do they do it? It’s the love of the game and their dream to be the best.
There is no way to know for sure whether a promising young sport phenom will become the next all star, but each one of these athletes featured here has the talent and drive to make those dreams come true…
CELIA CHARLOTTE “CC” KAPLAN
12 Years Old
CC Kaplan is such the perfect pro golfer name. You can just hear the sportscaster announcing it in those hushed golf tones. This 12-year-old phenom lives in Greenwich, CT, but spends every weekend during the school year playing golf in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Monday mornings CC wakes up at 4:30 to jump on a plane by 5:30 and sprints to school when she lands. She does her homework on the plane because tournaments run late on Sunday if you play well – which she usually does.
But if you’re CC and you haven’t played well, you’re still at the range late, working on those things that kept you from winning that day. It makes for a grueling schedule that doesn’t seem to faze her a bit. What you find with most young athletes so dedicated to their sport is their time management skills. It’s on the job training. CC missed 47 days of school last year, and though her teachers accommodate her travel schedule, she is still expected to get the work done. “How are your grades?” I ask. CC nonchalantly replies, “They’re good. I get A’s”
It’s the worst sport for a kid. It takes forever. You need etiquette and manners. It takes a lot for a child to enjoy that.
CC drives a golf ball far, really far. 270 yards is her record. It’s the strongest part of her game. You watch that perfect text book swing and forget she’s a 12-year old girl. In fact, on the BODITRAK – a pressure mat that measures the ground force strength in your swing — proportional to her body weight she beats Dustin Johnson, the number 1 player in the world. Both he and CC, along with a host of other pros like Ricky Fowler, Jessica Korda, Brooks Koepka, and Michelle Wie train at JoeyD Golf in Jupiter, FL. When Dustin saw the results, he couldn’t believe a little girl beat him!
CC started playing golf when she was 4 years old. Her parents are avid golfers who played every weekend. One day CC asked where they were all day. When they told her playing golf, she replied, “Well, I want to, too!” Her father, Matt Kaplan, who’s as intense about the sport as she is, took her to the club the next day. He pulled a set of junior clubs from the pro shop and watched her swing. “I was like holy shit. She’s an incredible golfer”, says Matt. A scratch golfer himself, he knew and so did she. CC told him, “Dad, I think golf is my special thing.”
His obsession became their obsession, and Matt started taking her all over country to play. “I wasn’t like OMG my dad is making me play golf”, CC recalls. “I was like, Dad when can we go play golf?!” The two spend endless hours together practicing and playing. Says Matt, “You can’t make a kid play. It’s the worst sport for a kid. It takes forever. You need etiquette and manners. It takes lot for a child to enjoy that.”
Interjects CC, “You can’t be good if you don’t love it.” When I ask why, the answer is, “125 million percent it’s the rush and the competitiveness every time I go out. Whether it’s just to practice or playing in a tournament, I just love it. My favorite thing is being 1 stroke back with 2 holes to play and I have that last putt I’m standing over. I love the pressure. It’s just such an awesome feeling.”
16 Years Old
Kai Yudelson started wrestling when he was 11 years old. He had been doing Judo for a few years and decided to join his middle school team in 6th grade. “I didn’t really even know what wrestling was”, Kai says, “but I practiced, and I learned just like any other kid.” Well, he learned better than most and in that first year took 3rd place in the NYC Youth Championships.
“We went to our first tournament, which were the city championships”, Carrie Karabelas, Kai’s mom relates. “My husband and I didn’t know a lot about wrestling either. Kai had a very close first match with a tough little kid who seemed to be more experienced. Kai lost, but he told us he still had a chance to get 3rd place if he won the next 7 matches. I was like, ‘Right, kid!’, but he took it one match at a time. He won one, and then another one and just kept going. He learned the sport so quickly because he liked the feeling of winning.”
That winter, Kai was invited to join a travel team called Beat the Streets. Practicing with better wrestlers and coaching, and against tougher competition, he came back in 7th grade and won the city championships that fall – and then again the following year in 8th grade.
Kai goes to one of the best public high schools for wrestling, Brooklyn Technical High School, where his winning record continues. A starter on the varsity team in ninth grade, he had an undefeated dual meet record in his freshmen year in Folkstyle – one of the three styles of wrestling along with Freestyle and Greco-Roman. At the high school PSAL NYC championships that season he took third in Folkstyle, losing to a senior who went on to become the state champion — but Kai was back on the podium in 1st place last year as a sophomore. Add to that 1st place finishes in the NY-USAW state championships in Greco-Roman both his freshman and sophomore year, plus a 2nd in Freestyle!
Many of you may be envisioning an 80’s movie called “Vision Quest“ about a high school wrestler that starred Matthew Modine. Besides his love interest played by Linda Fiorentino, equally memorable was his character “making weight”. Wrestlers compete in a particular weight class and there is always “weight cutting” before a tournament as you practice heavier than you compete.
“You’re all alone on the mat. It’s all you and you can’t cheat it. It teaches you the mentality that you have to do everything, and you can do everything.”
Kai starts dieting 5 to 6 days in advance before city or state championships to cut 10-12 lbs. He eats a tiny bit of oatmeal and maybe a couple of eggs for breakfast to hold him over for the day. For dinner it’s a chicken breast or a cup of almonds. It’s not really the calories he counts but the weight of the food. “Is the dieting hard?” I ask. “It’s horrible!” he replies.
On a typical training day during the season Kai wakes up at 6am to be at practice from 7am-8am before school. After school he’s at practice from 4pm-6pm and then again 7pm-8:30pm. Homework gets done late from about 9pm-12pm. “Are there sacrifices you make?” I ask. “Absolutely. Friends invite you to stuff but you can’t go – typical hangouts after school, birthdays, all that fun stuff. If there’s a party on Saturday night, but a weekend tournament I can’t go.” The wrestling he says outweighs it all.
So with all these sacrifices and the grueling lifestyle what is it about the sport that he loves so much? “You’re all alone on the mat”, Kai answers. “It’s all you and you can’t cheat it. You really have to practice and put in work. It teaches you the mentality that you have to do everything, and you can do everything.”
11 Years Old
Beneath the calm exterior of 11-year-old Aria Bevacqua lurks a warrior. Aria has always been into fighting she tells me. She started fencing at age 9. She had been doing karate but when she saw fencing she knew this was her sport. “This is an upgrade”, she said. “It’s fighting with swords!”
Her first season Aria competed in the Youth-10 and Youth-12 categories and won just one medal. But last year, she medaled in every one of her 13 competitions in Y10 – and all but two of those medals were Gold, Silver, or Bronze. She also won medals in two of the nine Y12 events she fenced that year. Aria finished the year with a Silver medal at the USA Fencing National Championships in St. Louis, Missouri – just missing taking home the Gold by one point.
Undoubtedly, her most exciting competition so far has been her first international tournament during Spring Break last year: the Challenge Wratislavia in Poland. Taking on girls from all over Europe, she won the Silver medal and was undefeated until the final bout. Not bad for two years in the sport!
Aria is coached by Tim Morehouse, who won the Silver medal in the Men’s Sabre in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Aria also competes in Sabre. Like wrestling, fencing has three different categories, the other two being Epee and Foil. It is her dream to go to the Olympics. “It’s so cool being coached by someone who’s already gone and won a silver medal. It’s really inspiring!” Aria tells me.
I love how it’s a sport, but it’s not just physical. It’s also a big mental game.
“Aria is one of the most driven fencers I’ve ever seen”, says Tim. “I’ve had the opportunity to see many of our current Olympians when they were her age and she has many of the same qualities. She works hard, is obsessed with getting better, and she brings a fire and energy day in and day out to what she does.”
Aria is a smart kid — quite obvious when you speak with her. Perhaps that’s what drew her to the sport. “I love how it’s a sport, but it’s not just physical. It’s also a big mental game”, she explains. “You have to keep your cool. You have to have a plan. You have to know what you’re going to do, and you have to know what your opponent’s going to do.” Don’t fooled though, fencing is as physical as it is mental and when you see her lunge airborne at an opponent you see the strength it requires – and her killer instinct too!
IZYAN “ZIZOU” AHMAD
8 Years Old
Izyan “Zizou” Ahmad is just about one of the cutest kids and definitely the best 8 year old tennis player I’ve ever seen! Too young to be ranked, his passion, dedication, and obsession with tennis are obvious if you follow him on Instagram – Tennis_Ace_Zizou. That’s where I first saw him hitting, serving, volleying, and practicing his footwork – sharing daily the various parts of his game on which he’s working. Practice makes perfect and it shows in the consistency with which he hits the ball. Photographing him, you get the same picture every time. His form never wavers and he rarely hits the ball into the net.
Zizou’s got charisma along with it all, and is a spokesperson – or spokeskid – for the Net Generation, the official youth tennis organization of the USTA. Come US Open time, he’s everywhere promoting the sport: tossing the coin at the men’s semi-final with Novak Djokovic, hanging with legends like Stan Smith, and interviewing his favorite player of all, Roger Federer. When Zizou asked Roger at a press conference last year, “Could you please keep playing tennis for 8 or 9 more years so I can play you when I turn pro?” Roger replied, “If you make it on tour I’ll make sure that maybe I’ll come back for you”. Not a total commitment, but he did make Zizou a “pinky promise”.
Zizou and his parents are from India – or as he clarifies “I’m from the US but Daddy is from India, so I get my looks and accent from him”. His parents came to the US in 2009, 1 year before Zizou was born. “How did you get started playing tennis?” I ask. “When I was little, Mommy and Daddy used to play and I would crawl around all over the courts. When I started walking at 2 1/2, Daddy bought me a little tennis racquet. I could actually hit the ball over the net. Daddy said tennis came to me naturally. I have been training ever since”.
Look out Roger… you might have to make good on that pinky promise!
Now a student at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Randalls Island in NYC, Zizou trains there Wednesday to Friday after school – two hours of practice and then an hour of fitness. The other days he trains at his local courts in Wayne, NJ. His footwork and stamina are impressive which you can see on Instagram, too. Zizou is almost as good a soccer player as he is a tennis player, and originally that was the sport he dreamed to play professionally. In fact, “Zizou” is the nickname of his parents’ favorite soccer player, Zinedine Zidane.
Zizou became eligible to play in USTA tournaments when he turned 7 in June of 2017. So far he’s won seven 10 & Under tournaments, and has already cleared the youth progression levels to start playing in the 12 & Under division. Look out Roger… you might have to make good on that pinky promise!
SURFER & SNOWBOARDER
13 Years Old
13-year-old Kailey Bogart is as much a phenom on the snow as she is on the waves. I met her at a surf contest in Belmar, NJ last summer, the last stop on a summer east coast tour she dominated. The youngest surfer in her age group of 17 & Under, she won not just one but two Rip Curl GromSearch contests along the way. Her next stop after Belmar would be Park City, Utah where she was headed to train with the US Snowboarding team. Kailey is also a 5-time USASA Snowboarding National Champion!
The Bogart family – or some of them – spend half the year in Hawaii and the other half in Colorado. This may sound glamorous, but it comes with some sacrifice for this family of six. Three girls and a boy, the kids have grown up on a military base. Dad Jesse Bogart was Commander and Operations Officer in the US Air Force, and the family is now based in Pearl Harbor, where he serves in the Hawaii Air National Guard.
Three of the kids are hot snowboarders as well as surfers, too, and they split the family in the winter – mom Jen taking them to Colorado for the season. As a single-income family, dual residences are a financial strain and things like TV, cable, eating out, as well as a few modern necessities like haircuts, new clothes, and even electricity are sometimes not an option.
For this family it’s worth it because Kailey almost didn’t compete in either sport. When she was 5-years-old, Kailey fell out of a hammock and hit her head. They took her to the hospital and x-rays revealed something much more serious than expected – a congenital anomaly known as a Chiari Malformation. Essentially her brain was too large for her skull and was corked in her spinal canal, blocking the flow of cerebral spinal fluid. Though she had no symptoms, if left undiscovered it could have caused walking, speech, vision and coordination problems – and possibly paralysis. One year later, after brain surgery, Kailey was competing in USASA Snowboarding National Championships.
When she was 5-years-old, she fell out of a hammock and hit her head. They took her to the hospital and x-rays revealed something much more serious than expected.
To say Kailey appreciates every moment of in life is an understatement. Kailey’s little sister, Mackensie, is a leukemia survivor, as well. “It was really hard to keep up with surfing when Mackensie was going through that. We were always in the hospital”, she tells me. Healthy now, Mackensie was diagnosed when she was 3 and just turned 7. Kailey has been teaching her to surf. “We tandem together and she’s starting to compete in the snow too!”
Riding the waves, stomping the halfpipe, and just talking to Kailey, she exudes such joy and happiness. Her big smile can’t help but put one on your face, too. When I ask her if there is one thing she loves more about surfing than snowboarding she replies emphatically, “No! I love them both! I need them both!”
“You like the snow, you like the water, you like the hot, you like the cold?
“Yep! I’ll do anything for any of those!”
15 Years Old
15-year-old hockey player Douglas Forbes is a big kid. He always has been. That’s what got him into the sport when some hockey dad wrangled him at age 7 because of his size. The leading scorer on his team last year, at 6’1 and 190 lbs, Douglas is built for the aggressive physicality for which the sport is known – but his personality is far from that. For this sweet natured young man, the sport of hockey is much more than a game. The ice is his sanctuary. “I love the speed”, he says, “just going fast, up and down the ice, the breeze on my face.”
School has always been a challenge for Douglas. Diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, he was lucky to discover hockey in first grade. He didn’t know how to skate, but he learned. He wasn’t naturally talented, but he worked at it. Hockey made him feel good when school didn’t. It made him want to improve. It helped him to focus – a challenge for kids with learning disabilities.
Douglas started getting good at hockey around 12, spending more time on the ice and also at the gym getting stronger. He was playing for the Chelsea Piers Cyclones, and also working with a coach in Yonkers, NY, who had been a NCAA Division 1 player at St. Lawrence and saw something special in Douglas. By 13, he was playing with kids 16 and 17 years old.
Douglas’ parents will tell you he’s not one of the best players for his age, nor does he claim to be — despite a power slap shot of 75mph! But, all his coaches will attest to how hard he works, how dedicated, and what a great team player he is. It’s what the coach of his team last year, the Scarsdale Raiders, called his “superpowers”. He’s on the ice everyday after school, at different rinks in and around town, working on various parts of his game. On Fridays, he’s up 4am to be on the ice by 5am, to get in a couple extra hours of practice before school.
For this sweet natured young man, the sport of hockey is much more than a game. The ice is his sanctuary
Douglas tells me his ADHD helps in a way. “It tells me what I like to do and what I don’t. It gives me the positives and negatives very clearly. Even in hockey there are things I don’t enjoy, like power skating, but I know I have to do it. I know what I need to work on and I’m able to focus. It translates off the ice as well.”
His transcript speaks for itself. Graduating from The Windward School last year, a school for kids with learning disabilities, Douglas was accepted to The Salisbury School this year, a top boarding school in Connecticut – that also happens to have one of the best hockey programs with with five New England Division I Championships.
Douglas’s mom, Louise Phillips Forbes, who also grew up with dyslexia, which went undiagnosed until the sixth grade says, “Who knows what his future is in the sport, but hockey feeds his soul every time he takes the ice.”
Photographed and written by Claudia Lebenthal