At the end of 2013 I was one of the highest ranked players in the Taekwondo Australia Rankings. I wasn’t able to go to Nationals due to a meniscus injury I sustained during the TA International where I fought world class USA player Philip Yun. Nevertheless I was psyched for 2014 and felt like I was about to make my break onto the world scene. The first step was winning a spot on the National Team.
The Oceania selections were at the end of April so to make sure I was prepared I booked a trip to South Korea. One of my friends Sol is Korean and she organised a few high schools for me to train at. Everyone I spoke to about training at Korean High Schools warned me of the intensity I would be training at. They were not wrong. For two weeks I was battered by the Koreans. On the first day I partnered with a heavyweight boy who kicked me so hard I had to stop training because I couldn’t breathe. It felt like I was under water. The Koreans train with a kind of ferocity I haven’t seen in Australia.
As the training camp came to a close I was becoming used to the way they train, the way they embrace pain as a means of motivation. Although at times the trip was very unpleasant I learned a lot about myself and I feel that I genuinely came back as a better person. I said my goodbyes and made my way home. I had three days after training finished for me to enjoy Seoul and to rest my body in preparation for the Oceania Selections. When I arrived in Melbourne on the Tuesday I had a few recovery sessions and a light kick around before I left on the Friday for the competition.
I was fighting in the Middleweight Division which is an 87kg limit. I weighed in about 85.5kg with my clothes on. I was very comfortable in my weight and due to my success when not dieting hard and dehydrating the year before I continued the trend. I saw my opponent Ben the day after and we had a nice and polite chat in the chairs in marshaling. I didn’t mention that I hadn’t cut any weight, but he did mention he was about 93kg at the time. I was at a weight disadvantage.
Weight aside I do not excuse myself from what happened. I had the best preparation of my life. I couldn’t have asked for better training leading in. I was pulling off a lot of really good stuff in the fight, I felt like I was really close 4 or 5 times to hitting Ben in the head. the scores however told a different story. I was down a significant amount. In the third round Ben started landing double roundhouse kicks on me so hard that I was actually hurt. Fighting hurts, but sometimes when people score on you, you don’t really take notice of the impact your body took. This was something I hadn’t experienced before. He was really, really hurting me. I lost the match by about 7 points. A pretty big gap in Taekwondo. I was really torn up about it.
I started really doubting myself after that. How could I have gone to South Korea, spent all that money to train and prepare for this comp and then be battered in the first round? It made no sense to me. To get over it I entered the upcoming Victorian Championships, a competition I have won more than 10 times. I thought getting a few wins would make me feel better. In my first fight I took control straight away, landing a clean head kick within 10 seconds. However, thirty seconds after that I broke my toe when my foot clashed with his shin. I couldn’t kick with my left foot for the rest of the fight, he realized it and began to thoroughly smash me on the side I couldn’t defend for the remaining 2 and a half rounds. I was wearing an Australian Team uniform, I was in front of my old coaches, usually my Mum is too scared of me getting hurt to watch me fight but this time she came. And I got wrecked. I have never been more embarrassed in my life.
I couldn’t walk properly or train for 6 weeks. So I stewed on it. I came into the next Victorian Championships raring to prove that I was still a force to be reckoned with. I fought the Team AUS Heavyweight Dylan in the first fight, he kicked me in the head but I felt like I was gaining momentum in the last round. I was popping him underneath his arm in the clinch and was catching up. Then I blocked another head kick attempt and when I looked down my ring finger was pointing the wrong way. Two fights in a row I had broken a bone.
Only elite athletes can understand truly what it feels like to be losing like this, to sacrifice years of your life for no reward. I felt that I had spent 6 years of my life for nothing. I felt like I was getting no where. My finger required surgery and I spent 12 weeks unable to train, unable to get my heart rate up without it throbbing. One night I was in a really bad mood so I started watching a movie and I laughed so hard my heart rate rose and my fingers started hurting. I couldn’t sleep with the metal and elastic warping my finger back into position. If it was hot in the room my finger would throb and wake me up. The pins would cut up my other fingers and stab the side of my body in my sleep. In all honesty some nights I would wake up in pain and just cry.
I decided that I couldn’t live like that. It was October and I had spent 5 months out of 10 in pain. My pins came out and I started Physiotherapy, trying to regain the ability to use my left hand. To this day, I am unable to make a complete fist. In October I rejoined a BJJ club I had trained at in 2013 as a means of cross training. In 2013 I was training at Westside MMA in Caroline Springs, a truly elite training facility. They had an affiliation at the time with the Australian Elite Team so when I wanted to start up again I went straight back to the AET. Over the next few months I made myself a promise.
If I couldn’t make the National Team in time for Rio I would make the complete transfer to MMA and try and make the UFC. I am competing for that National Team spot in exactly one month.