By Dave Wagner
Qualifying for the tae kwon do world championships was quite an accomplishment for three students of Eastern New Mexico Taekwon-Do in Portales.
Instructor Steve Blakeley, who has taught tae kwon do for 32 years, said it’s the first time he’s had anybody make it to that level. But he knows the competition will be much stiffer when they get to the event this fall in Daejeon City, South Korea.
“My students will be going against people who do this for a living,” he said.
Nicole Frank of Portales and Mark Yoesting of Clovis are scheduled to compete in the adult division of the world event, scheduled for Oct. 14-19. Audra Brown, a 15-year-old from Portales, will go in the junior division.
“I was blown away,” Blakeley said of the nationals. “We’ve been to the qualifiers before, but never had anyone end up higher than fourth or fifth place.”
Tae kwon do, a Korean form of martial arts, has four different events in competition — patterns, a form of dance; sparring, a competition Blakeley compared to kickboxing, and power breaking and specialty breaking, which involve using hands or feet to break boards.
A national qualifier was staged in late June in Connecticut, with the top three in each category earning berths on the U.S. team for the world championships. Frank placed second in patterns and third in sparring, Yoesting was third in patterns, and Brown earned a gold medal in power breaking and a silver in patterns.
“I’m really proud of our school,” said Frank, 33, who works as a phlebotomist at Roosevelt General Hospital in Portales. “Mr. Blakeley is really an outstanding instructor. I knew our chances (of qualifying) were great, but I just didn’t know what the level of competition would be.”
In the world championships, they’ll go against athletes who are often paid by their governments to train.
“It’s going to be difficult for guys like me that can only train parttime,” said the 34-year-old Yoesting, an Oklahoma City native who has participated in tae kwon do for more than 20 years. “But it’s a tremendous, overwhelming privilege to represent our country.
“I was disappointed to finish third, but in this case third was just as good as first.”
Blakeley, who works fulltime as director of printing services at Eastern New Mexico University, said he averages 70 to 90 tae kwon do students a year, adding that he’s had 26 over the years who have reached the first level of black-belt.
Frank picked up tae kwon do about nine years ago, and believes the activity is something she can do for as long as she wants.
“It’s a great thing for all sorts of health reasons,” she said. “I’ll do this for a lifetime, whether I’m competing or not.”
Yoesting, who works for Muleshoe Vet Supplies, is looking forward to seeing a different part of the world.
“I’ve never been out of the country, except to Juarez (Mexico),” he said. “It’ll definitely be a different experience.”