World Para-Taekwondo Championships has local roots
Owner of Orléans school brought special needs program to international levels
With the first-ever World ParaTaekwondo Championships recently in the books, years of hard work and persistence came to fruition for Grandmaster Tae Eun Lee, the chair of the World Taekwondo Federation’s (WTF) para-taekwondo committee.
Lee, the owner of several taekwondo schools across the city including one on Youville Drive, was in many ways the pioneer of the para discipline in the sport when he started a program 32 years ago for children with special needs – which several Orléans youngsters attend weekly at the school’s headquarters across from Westgate Shopping Centre.
Over several decades, Lee received messages from across the globe asking him how to implement similar programs, as momentum and interest in the idea gradually grew worldwide.
“After that, he was thinking about how to provide some avenue for high-performance sport for athletes with a disability,” recounts David Silverman, the executive director of Tae E. Lee’s Taekwondo School. “It’s a path that’s been travelled for 32 years, but a big jump has happened in the last four years.”
With the WTF’s successful bid to make taekwondo an Olympic sport around a decade ago, the next goal for Lee was to build the disabled portion of the sport internationally so it could become part of the Paralympic Games in the future.
“He’s always been a visionary,” Silverman says, noting Lee would also like to see taekwondo in the Special Olympics for athletes with intellectual disabilities. “And he’s always done what people tell him he’ll never be able to do. The best thing for the Paralympics would be for someone to tell him, ‘You can’t do it.’
“He takes that challenge and makes things happen. That’s what he teaches kids to do in their life – it sort of matches the philosophy he teaches children with special needs.”
The World Para-Taekwondo Championships held in conjunction with an able-bodied team competition in Baku, Azerbaijan in mid-June were an important step towards getting taekwondo into future Paralympics.
Entry fees were waived and accommodations provided in order to try to attract the most athletes possible to the event that drew 36 athletes from 20 different countries.
“We’re trying to develop the WTF to be as diverse as possible,” notes Silverman, who acts as Lee’s right-hand man on the international committee, dealing with planning and administration. “Hopefully there will one day be a world championships with many different categories and events.”
The Azerbaijan event included only athletes who were upper-quadrant amputees, but the hope is that future competitions will include other types of disabilities, as well as a patterns category on top of sparring.
Canada sent a single competitor to the world championships, Ottawa’s Ken Stasiak – a 50year-old student and instructor at Lee’s school who came back with a bronze medal. Stasiak began taking taekwondo in 2000 when his son tried the sport to help with ADHD.
“It looked interesting to me, but because of my issues with my arm, I didn’t think I could do it,” says Stasiak, who lost most use of his right arm after beating osteosarcoma – the same cancer Terry Fox had – eight years earlier. “But Grandmaster Lee convinced me that I could, so I gave it a try and liked it.
“I was surprised (to win bronze),but honoured and proud to do it for Canada and Master Lee.”
Ken Stasiak (left), a student/instructor at Tae E. Lee's Taekwondo School, won a bronze medal at the first-ever World Para-Taekwondo