K icks and the punches were flying over the weekend in Colorado Springs at the U.S. Olympic Complex where the 38th National Collegiate Taekwondo Championships were held on Sunday.
The Buffs, represented by 15 members of the University of Colorado-Boulder's Taekwondo Club, brought home five medals in various sparring (fighting) divisions, but fell short in poomsae, the competitive display of traditional taekwondo forms.
However, it was the club's camaraderie that stood out among the 69 national teams competing.
Tim Ghormley, vice president of the National Collegiate Taekwondo Association (NCTA) and head coach of Stanford Taekwondo said he noticed the team's unity in his encounters with the Buffs at past tournaments.
"They're a tight bunch," said Ghormley, "and I think they have really good coaches who ... create an environment that helps the members achieve their best and at the same time get closer through the process."
Nicole Anderson, a CU team member and fundraising officer, said she agrees with Ghormley, calling her teammates "family."
"I don't think I would fight if I didn't have this team," said Anderson, adding that she didn't think she performed as well as she had hoped. "No matter what, these people are the most supportive people I know and they are proud of you for just going out there and trying."
The coaching, lead by 7th degree black belt Master Andre DeOliveira, has been key in helping the team become national-level contenders, said team member Rodney Hooks.
Hooks was diagnosed with sickle-cell disease at birth, but said he never worried about the ailment until he experienced blood-clotting symptoms during his first sparring match in a tournament last year. Hooks said it was the team that helped him to push through and be able to compete at a higher level.
"I remember the first time I fought. I was winning and all of a sudden I couldn't breathe," said Hooks. "I didn't know what was going on. I wanted to quit taekwondo... it was that bad."
But Hooks said coach DeOliveira and teammate David Lee encouraged him to "fight smart, don't fight crazy" and taught him how to properly kick.
At the championships over the weekend, Hooks won two of three matches, garnering a bronze medal.
"I think I pretty much did the best I've ever done," Hooks said, laughing, "considering last year I didn't win at all."
According to Anderson, one of the five principals of taekwondo is one must have an indomitable spirit and never give up.
"When someone loses, clearly the whole team is there for them and we console them and we make sure they know we will work on it and get better," said Anderson. "I'm not going to stop. I'm going to do it as long as my body will let me."
Ghormley said he hopes the team continues to enter tournaments with their positive energy.
"CU could be a real benefit to the rest of the national collegiate association as they grow and become more active," Ghormley said. "It can only benefit the overall organization."