World Para-Taek­wondo Cham­pi­onships has lo­cal roots

Owner of Or­léans school brought spe­cial needs pro­gram to in­ter­na­tional lev­els

Orleans Star - - LOCAL SPORTS - Dan Plouffe

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.”

Photo by Dan Plouffe

Ken Stasiak (left), a stu­dent/in­struc­tor at Tae E. Lee's Taek­wondo School, won a bronze medal at the first-ever World Para-Taek­wondo

Cham­pi­onships.

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