Practicing taekwondo has become a way of life for a group of local athletes whose dedication to the sport has earned them the right to represent the United States at an international competition.
Five area students who train at Great Lakes Global Taekwondo in Sylvania have qualified for the International Taekwondo Federation World Championships. The athletes, who range in age from 15 to 20, qualified for the prestigious event by placing in the top three at an ITF national competition held the spring.
Master Carol Van Zile, who has been practicing taekwondo for 27 years, trains the competitors at her studio.
“I’m very proud of this group,” Van Zile said. “They had to work hard to qualify. It’s an honor to be selected. There is a high standard of skill in this room.”
There are three female competitors: Lydia Delmonico (20 years old), Grace Dunbar (17), and Paula Pacheco (16), and two male athletes: Antonio Golini (15) and Brandon Nickens (16).
The athletes, coaches, and families will travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 25 for the week-long competition. Twenty-eight nations will have competitors at the event, which is sanctioned by the ITF.
The group trains at least five days a week at the studio.
Van Zile said her studio has sent competitors to five world championships. The athletes all stay in the same area, similar to the Olympic village. Van Zile herself has qualified for world competitions in Italy, England, Korea, and Australia.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “You get to go out and enjoy the culture. I’ve made friends around the world.”
Delmonico, a 20-year-old from Sylvania who attends the University of Toledo, has been practicing taekwondo for nine years. The second-degree black belt said it’s an honor to go to the competition with her instructor and teammates.
“We’re nervous. It’s a big step for us. It’s an honor to compete on behalf of the United States,” she said.
Golini, a first-degree black belt who goes to school at the Toledo Technology Academy, said he began taking taekwondo classes about five years ago. He said the world competition represents a great opportunity, and that he has been training for the event every day for the past four months for about four hours per day.
“We will be there to represent our country and make us look good and, hopefully, bring [a medal] home,” Golini said.
Taekwondo is systematic and scientific Korean traditional martial art that teaches fighting skills and discipline while also enhancing the mind.
“It gives you confidence,” Golini said. “Taekwondo is more a way of life for me than a hobby because of everything I put into it.”
Nickens, who attends Maumee Valley Country Day School, has been practicing taekwondo for seven years and is a second-degree black belt.
“I’m really ready for this tournament. It’s the highest level of competition that you have in taekwondo,” Nickens said.
The athletes compete in events including pattern routines, power breaking, and specialty breaking. There are individual and team competitions, with compulsory and optional divisions based on belt rankings.
Students must earn white, yellow, green, blue, and red belt rankings before moving up to black. The lowest black belt is a first-degree and the highest in ninth degree.
One of the specialty striking events requires competitors to kick a board suspended 8 feet, 6 inches off the floor for males and 7 foot, 2 inches for females.
Jonathan Van Zile, who is Carol’s son as well as an instructor of self-defense at the school, said there are five main tenants of taekwondo: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit.
“The purpose of taekwondo is to develop mentally excellent and physically excellent students,” he said. “We want to produce students who can defend themselves well but also excel in other areas.”
He said there is no religious element to taekwondo.
“We focus on finding self-realization and self-control,” said John, who started practicing the martial art when he was 5. “We use scientific methods.”
Johnathan Van Zile said the world competition takes place every two years.
“The main purpose of competition is to test yourself against other practitioners to see what skills you have and what you need to work on,” he said. “You represent your country. You can compete in multiple events and you compete against the best in the world.”
The Great Lakes Global Taekwondo studio opened in 1997 and has been at its current location for 10 years. The school is accepting new students. More information can be found at the group’s website: sylvaniataekwondo.com.
Master Carol Van Zile, who is a seventh-degree black belt, said her students range from ages 5 to more than 60 years old.
“We adapt to the people depending on their skill level,” she said.
Paula Pacheco, who is a first-degree black belt, competes in the special needs division. Pacheco said she first started taking taekwondo at a local YMCA.
“I like how you do the different patterns that we do,” she said. “It’s fast and it’s fun to do. I’m really excited about [the competition]. I hope to get first place.”’
Delmonico spars with the male competitors at the studio.
“I came here just to try out the sport and learn self-defense and ended up loving it,” Delmonico said. “I love the discipline it teaches students and the physical discipline that goes into it as well. I love what it demands of me and how much I can learn from it.”
Golini said taekwondo creates a connection with others.
“I started it because of a bullying issue,” Golini said. “It’s made me very much more conditioned and fit. It has helped me deal with physical bullying and verbal bullying and being able to control myself a lot better.
“We’re like a family here. I really enjoy that,” he said.
Delmonico, who wants to become a physician’s assistant, said the sport has helped her in everyday life.
“I’m able to listen more. I can keep my mind on task. It makes me more open to my surroundings,” she said. “It helps me unwind at the end of the day. It reduces my stress levels quite a bit. It’s very much a part of my life.”
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