Interviewed by Algonquin College Journalist and Lifestyle Editor for the Algonquin Times – Gabrielle Tieman

Kayla Maduk – 2nd Dan, National Taekwon-Do Team
By Gabrielle Tieman – 3rd Year Student and Lifestyle Editor for the Algonquin Times Paper

Kayla Maduk spins around and smacks a hacky-sack to the ground with the heel of her foot. Repeatedly, the youngest members of her dojang throw the small, bean filled balls into the air as Kayla continues to spin and strike. One, two, four, six, the bags fall. At 14 years old, she hardly skips a beat.

This warm up routine is only a small aspect of Kayla’s day-to-day life as she spins through her days filled with early mornings, high-school assignments, soccer practice, and daily trips to her second home – her Taekwon-do dojang. Although most young teenagers would cave under a schedule that would challenge the average adult, Kayla has found an inner balance that resonates out of her pores.

Sitting across from her, it’s hard to believe that she is a teenager. With an easy smile and a confidence that exudes when she speaks about her passions in life and the goals she has already accomplished, it is easy to mistake this young athlete for a seasoned veteran.  For a girl who challenges society’s stigma of the average teenager, she does not seem close to buckling under the pressure. She is a person who loves comedies, her family and friends, and kicking a soccer ball around in the fields behind her school; yet she holds a second degree black belt and will soon represent Canada in the international circuit.

At the age of three, Kayla began studying the art of Taekwon- do. Inspired by both her father and brother who were already involved in the sport, Kayla begged for her turn to try the family hobby. By five she was breaking boards; by nine she was breathing the sport.

“When I was probably nine or ten, I was gung-ho on Taekwon-do,” Kayla says. “My bedroom had everything Taekwon-do possible. I would eat every meal with chopsticks”.  Remembering a house full of Asian calligraphy, Kayla’s mother Heather recalls wiping the toe prints off of every surface of her kitchen. “All of our cupboard doors had footprints on them,” she says.  “You could build a tree house with all of the boards she has broken.” It is safe to say that no one in Kayla’s life has ever deterred her drive to be the best in the ring.

Although no one has ever attempted to discourage Kayla from pursuing athletics, many professionals believe that it is important to safeguard young athletes so they do not burn out before their twenties. The Youth Sports Safety Alliance – an organization that works to prevent high school students from finishing their athletic careers with permanent injuries – stands to question whether or not young athletes will hold their trophies or their injuries the longest during their lifespan.  Dojang owner and instructor Steven LeGrow though does not believe Kayla will ever face burning out as an option.

“With every training, every action, you can feel her emotion and see her desire come out. She is a great role model to the younger generation,” LeGrow says. “I rarely hear a complaint from her unless she has pushed herself too hard and has over reached her own limits, and even then, she still tries to push more.” Although many would perceive that pushing herself too hard would lead to an early upset at a young age, Kayla’s philosophy of ‘I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do’ keeps her from losing a grip on boundaries. If she feels her strength falling she takes a day to relax and resist – with difficulty – thinking about anything related to Taekwon-do. Then she is back, and even stronger.

The epitome of a modern student, Kayla manages to balance her athletics with her school work. Maintaining honour roll status has not always been easy for the active teen, but for those like David Campbell, her home room teacher at Cederview Middle School in Nepean, they have never found her lifestyle to impede on her school work. “In our fast-paced, high-pressure society, she has thrived,” explains Campbell with evident pride. “This young woman will do great things and make a difference”. But how does Kayla balance her hectic life? With three important routines: yoga, soccer, and humour.

Picking up a soccer ball had never crossed Kayla’s mind growing up. Being so involved with Taekwon-do, she had little time or encouragement to challenge herself with yet another activity. When her class started playing during gym class in middle school though, something changed. Today she is playing for the OYSL OSU Force Team which is at the Provincial Level. “I like getting the team aspect,” Kayla says, not concerned with the added item to her timetable. “It’s a different cardio. A different mentality. It has really helped me a lot.”  Being part of a team has done anything but overwhelm her. With the added aspect of cooperating with other people to achieve a win, Kayla thinks it balances the solitary aspect of her life that she encounters through taekwon-do. Being able to get out of her own head and into those of her teammates and opponents now help her in competition.

Early in November, Kayla found herself travelling to compete in the Olympic Oval alongside and against the best in the country. For many, this would be intimidating; 400 competitors, thousands of spectators, and a building that holds the memories of Olympic gold in its walls. Although for many nerves would take the place of confidence fairly fast, Kayla quickly realized this is where she belonged.

“A lot of people get really nervous,” she says, shrugging her shoulders at the idea. “Maybe because there were windows or the wood in the building but I found it kind of homey.” A building with a holding capacity for 8,000 spectators and the size of 32 football fields is not your typical idea of homey for most. But Kayla is not most. Qualifying in five areas, including both individual and team events, at home is exactly where she felt at the Oval. Kayla won Gold for Patterns, Silver for Power Breaking and Bronze for Sparring in the U-18 Division.

Kayla wants to do more for the sport though than bring home gold. Regarding her taekwon-do student oath ‘I shall build a more peaceful world,’ she plans on living up to such a mantra. Years ago as a beginner in the sport, the older members of the dojang would be her instructors. In keeping with the tradition of passing on your wisdom to the younger generation, Kayla is now doing the same.

“When I was four years old I had people my age now, guys who were like my bigger brothers, who took me under their wing,” Kayla says. “I want to be one of these people for the younger guys.” One student always grabs her hand when she comes into class and another will demand to be her partner; the smaller students will continue to unknot their belts so that she has to kneel down to their level to retie them. “I had great adults and I want to be as great as they were,” she explains. She hopes that her experience will continue on to future generations.

Looking at her life today, Kayla says she would never change a detail of her busy lifestyle. “I love the training, I love the journey, I love the experience,” Kayla explains, adding how her parents always told her that it was the journey – not the medals – that would matter at the end of the day. Documenting everything in her blog, the reality of her impact on the sport has come home. Today, she is in touch with people from Germany to Switzerland to Russia; all wanting to know how she is doing, what she is accomplishing, and supporting her from overseas through comments on her public diary.

“As a parent I wanted her to see the flow and the growth,” says Heather in response to the impact of the blog on Kayla’s life and as well on others. “In 20 years, no one is going to remember what medal you won but they will remember the journey you got out of it.”  She may be a champion, but she is still a teenager.

The international ring is only another step in Kayla’s journey. Travelling to New Zealand next March to represent Canada at the 2011 World Championships in the Junior Division, she will be sparring against the best in the world. Embodying the beliefs of taekwon-do – courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control, and indomitable spirit – she will be representing something larger than she ever has in the past.

“It used to be that I had to represent myself well. And then it was I have to represent my school well. Then it went to I have to represent my province well, but now, I have to represent my country well. Everyday I’m representing my country.”

But what is Kayla looking forward to the most? Being able to put on her Team Canada jacket and show the world who she stands to represent. An item she will receive on her 15th birthday.