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More than a decade ago, Steven Lopez etched his name into history as the first American to win gold medals in the two highest blackbelt divisions of the USA Tae kwon do National Championships. Earlier this month, Owenton native Kendall Yount joined that club, securing her spot as not only the youngest competitor to achieve the feat, but also the first female.
More than just a place in history though, what really excites the 14-year-old is what the gold medal means. With her win in the national championships, she has earned the privilege to travel to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., in October for a week-long camp with elite nutritionists and strength coaches to help her progress as an athlete.
In addition, in 2013, she’ll be vying for a spot on the World Championship team in Mexico by taking on the three previous competitors in a round-robin style format.
If she performs well, she could find herself on the short list of athletes qualifying for the Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro in 2016.
As of now though, she said she’s not focused on what ifs. All she can control is how hard she attacks the coming months of preparation. One area in particular that’ll she’ll work on will be technique, but it certainly won’t be the only adjustment.
“You can always be quicker, faster, stronger and my agility needs to be worked on,” Kendall said. “People that go to the Olympics aren’t just martial artists, they’re athletes too.”
That said, to get a better understanding of where she could be headed, you have to begin with where she started.
In her parents’ opinion, it all began at age 3 when she had to pick between ballet and martial arts.
When her first recital ended with all of the children receiving the same reward despite different finishes, the family knew ballet might not be the best choice.
“She made it through and there were several little girls who did not,” her mother, Starla Yount, said with a laugh.. “At the end, they all got the same color ribbon. Even being that young, she was just furious.”
From that point, the decision was a fairly easy one, she maintains. Over the next few years, her father, Lee, who has been involved with martial arts since before Kendall was born, trained her in the finer aspects of Tae kwon do.
Before long, she came to her parents with a fairly straight forward request — get her to the Olympics. The next day, they went looking for a new school to train at.
After finally settling on the Kentucky Tae kwon do and Fitness Academy in Crestwood, one of the few schools in the state that regularly produces top athletes.
The only problem? With the school more than an hour away from their home just outside of Frankfort, a huge time commitment was needed to get her back and forth regularly.
For Master Sean Ramey, lead instructor at the school, the fact that the family is willing to put in the more than two-hour roundtrip commute to attend classes, is flattering. That kind of commitment is something that should help Kendall tremendously as she sets out, he added.
“It’s a huge compliment that she wants to come and travel that far and that she hasn’t got burnt out,” he said. “(Still), she’s not one of those people that only works out here at the school and that’s what it takes. If you want to be a champion in this or any sport, you can’t just go to the gym a few times a week. You have to do your homework, too, and Kendall is willing to put in that work and that’s what she does.”
It’s seemed to pay off so far.
Others are starting to take notice. Her father, Lee, got a glimpse of that when preparing for the Canada Open in May. After calling for informationabout the tournament, Yount said he spoke with Kate Nosworthy, the event manager of Tae kwon do Canada. It didn’t take her long to recognize his last name.
“The first words out of mouth were, ‘My name is Lee Yount,’ and she stopped me and said, ‘You must be Kendall Yount’s father,’” he said. “When you call out of the country and someone knows who you are, that made me feel good. It kind of gave me goosebumps.”
He could have plenty more as his daughter’s future in the sport looks brighter than ever. Now the goal is just seeing it through.
“I told her her whole life, you can have anything in this world that you want but there’s two things you have to do,” Lee Yount said. “No. 1, you have to want it bad enough and no. 2, you have to be willing to make the sacrifices for it.”
She seems to have a pretty good start so far.
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