Wednesday, December 9, 2015
I started training in Songahm Taekwondo when I was 11 years old. I trained for a little over a year and earned my purple belt before the schedules of five sports became too much for my parents to bear. I was forced to choose which sports I wanted to continue to pursue for the remainder of grade school and in high school. Ultimately, taekwondo was the first sport to go.
I did not think of taekwondo for years until I developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and Dystonia, which ended my high school basketball career and any chances of going to playing college basketball. I ended up in a wheelchair because of unexplainable muscle weakness. I quickly became out of shape and longed to be active again. One day, I found myself scrolling through Facebook when an advertisement for a new taekwondo school opening in the area popped up. I thought about doing taekwondo again, but immediately wrote it off with a laugh. “Taekwondo after all these years,” I thought to myself, “You must be insane.” Nevertheless, I gave the page a “like” anyway. Days passed and I could not get the idea of returning to taekwondo out of my mind. Finally, I worked up the courage to ask my parents if I could try it again. They agreed that we could go and look at the school. Two days before Christmas 2013, my mom and I went to check the school out.
The school didn’t have any workout mats, mirrors, or a front desk yet, but for some reason, it felt like a second home. As it was a new school, I was the first student and the only person in my class for months. Eventually, I was joined by other classmates. During this time, my legs were extremely weak from having been in a wheelchair most of the time. I was ready for a change. I wasn’t willing to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. I wasn’t going to let my chronic illnesses defeat me.
As I slowly climbed the mountain through all the ranks, I was met with one week long hospitalization after another and several procedures every two to three months, which led to significant muscle atrophy. Taekwondo helped me rebuild my strength and molded me into the martial artist that I know I am capable of being. I broke my leg and seriously injured ligaments to the point of requiring surgery while sparring. I have had surgery on my heel the day after I received my red belt to close a non-healing wound. There have been many more challenges, but I just can’t seem to turn martial arts off in my head! I have one speed and that is breakneck.
When I recently became wheelchair bound, due to an undiagnosed neuromuscular condition, just days before my testing for 1st Degree Black Belt, my instructor quickly explored ways in which we could still make this work. We spent time modifying each area of my testing. Maybe I couldn’t do a jump front kick board break, but I could use a punch and elbow strike to break those boards. Sparring involved a bit of creativity to allow for quicker movements and additional use of hand techniques. I had five days to make all the modifications to my forms, weapons, sparring, and board breaks, and believe it or not, I did it. I didn’t just do it though. I rocked it, getting perfect scores across the board from the masters in attendance. The best part? I did it in five days when most people have eight months to perfect their forms.
I was terrified that my 1st Degree Black Belt test would be anti-climactic and I would be left disappointed. However, I got a night I’ll never forget. After performing my techniques, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. My classmates applauded loudly, encouraged me, and gave me several pats on the back. Even
people I didn’t know were crying. I couldn’t understand why, but I later found out that they were inspired. It was a surreal moment as my black belt was tied around my waist. It wasn’t real. Five days later, it still doesn’t feel real to me. I received many congratulatory handshakes, hugs, flowers, and several small gifts. The night was magical and I didn’t want it to end. For those two hours, I felt like a typical 19 year old. Chronic illnesses have robbed me of many parts of my adolescent years, but they could not affect the overwhelming sense of accomplishment of that evening.
With the help of taekwondo, I am winning. Not just against my illnesses but also in life. While there are some days where I am so sick, tired, in crazy amounts of pain and want nothing more than to just take a nap, I always manage to get to class, even if I have to drag myself off the mat afterwards. Right now, I’m in a wheelchair again, but I will fight my way out of it, just like I did two years ago=o. As I work toward my 2nd Degree Black Belt and my goal of being a state champion, I’ll always have this night engrained in my memory to keep me moving forward.