Coquitlam taekwondo teen built championship on confidence

At first, Jade Lee didn’t want anything to do with taekwondo. Now she’s a Canadian junior champion.

Lee won her title in the 44 kg weight class at the national junior championships, held in Quebec City in January. The result has also earned her a spot on the Canadian junior team that will compete at the Pan American championships in June.

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To find success, the 14-year-old Coquitlam athlete has shed tears and travelled a lot of miles, including nine months away from her family. But, she said, the journey has made her stronger, more confident.

Lee started taekwondo when she was six years-old. She said she was shy, and her parents wanted to bring her out of her shell.

Lee was reluctant. But, she said, she enjoyed the freedom of constructing her moves. And the kiyups — or shouts athletes exclaim when they kick — made her feel powerful.

Lee competed at her first tournament when she was eight years-old, and by 2015 she had worked her way to the Canadian nationals in Quebec City. She said she loved the process of transferring the repetition of workouts in the gym to combat against an opponent.

Lee also said the experience of competing against other elite female cadets at a national level showed her how much further she had to develop. 

So, to up her game, in June, 2016, Lee’s family packed her bags and sent her to live with her grandmother in Seoul, South Korea, where she was enrolled in a school that included a top taekwondo academy.

Lee was there for nine months. She practised after school for four hours every day, then six hours on weekends. Homework was done after she got home, at around 9:30 p.m.

A training session often started with 100 laps of running around the academy’s outdoor track, then followed by 100 ascents and descents of a stairway. Lee jumped up and down off blocks, she worked on her kicking, she sparred.

“It was painful and hard,” she said, adding the regime and being away from home filled her with doubt.

Lee returned home in March, 2017, and a few months later she was at the national championships, this time in Calgary. In her final match, she slipped and bounced her head off the mat. She wanted to fight on, but the medic advised her otherwise.

Lee finished the tournament in third place in the 37-kg weight class for elite female cadets. But after investing so much time and time away from her family, she couldn’t help but be disappointed.

“I felt really unlucky,” Lee said. “I was really sad and mad because I thought I was going to win.”

Lee went back to Korea for a two-month training camp, and when she returned last September for the new school year, she said she knew she was stronger, physically and mentally.

At the nationals, Lee was the youngest competitor, going against athletes aged 15 to 17. She said her result has filled her with even more confidence.

Lee said in contrast to her shy introduction to the sport, she’s become the aggressor on the mat, using her speed and guile to make things happen or catch out her opponents.

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