By STRONG. Magazine for Girls
Meet Emily Fields, the inspirational 14 year-old from Wilton, Connecticut who has won not one, not two, but three Gold Medals at the National TaeKwonDo Championships and is a second degree black belt! We caught up with Emily at her home in Wilton to learn more about her passion and find out what it takes to become a true champion.
Emily, it’s so great to meet you. Huge congratulations on your gold medals – what an amazing achievement! Were you very young when you started taking TaeKwonDo classes?
“I was just three and a half. My mom had done TaeKwonDo when she was little so she thought it would be good to put me in for it and see how it worked out.”
I assume you have to do quite a lot of practice? How much time do you spend a week working on your sport?
“Well, I practice three or four times a week. Regular classes are about 50 minutes. I do two of those a week and then I also have training for Nationals. That’s normally about two hours”
Can you explain what TaeKwon Do is?
“It’s a form of martial art from Korea. In competitions there are different categories you can enter. There’s “forms” where you have a set of positions like front stance and back stance that you have to be able to demonstrate. Then there’s “breaking.” That starts off quite easy but when you get to black belt you might have to jump off the wall and do kicks and break boards, or be able to do three kicks in one jump. You’re graded on how well you do things, you have three judges, or five at Nationals, and they each look at one thing, so someone may look at your stance, one will look at power etc.”
Wow! That sounds like you’re someone from The Matrix! Do you “fight” people as well?
“They have sparring where you wear pads and things, but there are strict rules about what you can do. You obviously can’t kick people in the face for example. It’s not aggressive like wrestling or something though because it’s a form of self defense.”
So you talked about going to Nationals. Do you end up missing a lot of school to compete?
“Not really. There are competitions in November, March and July. November is an open tournament and anyone can go, then in March you have States, so that’s not too far away. Anyone can go to that too but you have to get a medal (gold, silver or bronze) there to go on and compete in the Nationals. The Nationals are in July so that’s when I do most of my traveling.”
And I imagine you get to do a lot of traveling with your sport?
“Yes, quite a lot. I’ve been to Chicago, California, Virginia, Texas, and Utah. I’m going to Detroit in July and next year there’s an extra tournament in Florida I’m hoping to go to. Also, I’m hoping to go for my fourth degree black belt in two years time and to get that you have to go to South Korea.”
That is a lot of travelling! Do you meet the same people wherever you go? Is there quite a tight knit TaeKwonDo community?
“Yes. I’m really close to everyone at my Dojang and I know everyone from all the other groups in Connecticut. There’s a kind of chain of Dojangs. I also have a good friend from Georgia and I’ve made good friends from other states too, which is really fun.”
Have you had to overcome many obstacles on your way to becoming a champion? When have you come across things that have been really hard for you?
“When I was in 3rd grade I broke my arm when I was ice skating so I couldn’t go to TaeKwonDo for three months and I missed my test for my purple belt. It was really tough because all my friends carried on without me and I felt left behind."
And I know you were also born unable to hear and you have processors attached to help you hear. Do you feel that has been something you’ve had to overcome?
“I don’t really think about it. It doesn’t really get in my way that much.”
Did you ever doubt that you could do it?
“The first time I competed at Nationals I only got a bronze and I was disappointed. But the second time was in California and it was the first time I had competed in the “breaking” category and I was pretty surprised to get the gold!”
I think I would be pretty pleased with a bronze medal at my first competition!
Can you think of anyone who has been a role model for you? Someone you look up to in the sport or who motivates you?
“Not necessarily in TaeKwonDo. I’m kind of more self-motivated or my friends have motivated me. Outside the sport I also really like American Ninja Warrior and my favorite person is actually my new parkour coach, I’ve known him for a while. His name is Joe Moravsky. He shows really good examples – not to give up. And he’s really good at coaching kids and inspiring people and showing them they have to keep going when things are hard. He’s just a regular person but he’s still steps out of being a regular person when he needs to.”
“Jessie Graff is also an American Ninja Warrior and she’s a stunt woman, which is what I want to be. So, she’s pretty much living the life everyone wants to live and I think she’s pretty awesome.”
So parkour is the other thing that you’re really into?
“Yeah, I go twice a week.”
How on earth do you fit everything in? When do you do your schoolwork?
“Well, often I have several Tae KwonDo classes on one night so I usually get one night off and maybe Sunday each week to do other things.”
And do you compete in parkour too?
“I just started last summer. They have American Ninja youth competitions where they take everything that was on the TV show and they come up with a course based on those obstacles. So there’s a thing called Cannon Ball Alley where you have to swing along like you’re on monkey bars but you’re holding swinging balls, and then there’s one called the salmon ladder where you have to move rungs up a ladder while your body swings below.”
You must have to be so strong! Do you do strengthening exercises at home too?
“I do push ups and use my trampoline to get my legs really strong for kicking and breaking.”
Do you feel strong?
“I don’t know, I don’t really think about it because I’ve just always done it.”
What do you love the most about your sport?
“I really like the community aspect. All my friends are so supportive and we have a lot of fun. We have a big party every year after Nationals and it’s really fun to get everyone together.”
And what have you set your sights on next – what’s coming up that you’re working towards?
“Well, I have my 3rd degree black belt coming up soon and then there’s the championships this year - hopefully another gold!”
Well, we wish you all the best with that Emily. Keep us posted, we’d love to hear how you do!
As of July 1st 2017 Emily is a 4th time gold medalist in breaking! Also, as of June 15th, Emily earned her 3rd degree black belt making her the first student in the World Champion TaeKwonDo dojo lead by Master Jeong to do so. She is looking forward to earning her 4th degree black belt in 4 years.
• It’s a Korean Martial art
• TaeKwonDo means “Way of the hand and the foot”
• Developed in the 1940s and 1950s
• One of only two martial arts in the Olympic Games, the other being Judo.
• It’s South Korea’s national sport and is part of South Korean military training.
• The uniform you wear when you practice TaeKwonDo is called a “Dobok”
• The training hall is called a Dojang.
• The sport is characterized by fast spinning kicks, head height kicks and jumping.
• It’s more than just kicks and punches though, you need concentration, combat philosophy, self defense and physical fitness.
• There is a belt system. You begin with a white belt and progress through yel low, green, blue and red to reach black belt.
• As many as 70 million people world wide take part in TaeKwonDo and 4 million students are black belts.
• It is practiced in 188 countries around the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This piece was originally published in STRONG, a new magazine aimed at tween and teenaged girls that seeks to break the mold. While many other publications for this age group focus on celebrities, STRONG focuses on real girls with diverse interests. While other publications focus on body image and fashion, STRONG focuses on keeping a healthy body and mind. STRONG also presents great role models - girls who have overcome adversity and thrived, and women who are breaking glass ceilings in areas previously dominated by men. Visit www.strongmagazineforgirls.com to learn more.