By Anil Jhalli
It was a strong showing for local martial artists at the 2018 Taekwondo National Championships, held in the nation’s capital last month.
Phoenix Taekwondo Martial Arts Academy athletes stood out especially at the event. In Kyorugi, the sparring competition, the academy’s Hanna Bel Bariciak and Teana Averbeck won gold, teammates CJ Huard Berro and Nail Mohamed won silver, and its members Maleeka Mohamed and Leonarda Andric won bronze, in their own divisions.
“At the time (I came first) it felt so unbelievable to be on the top of the podium in front of my family, friends, coaches and teammates,” said Bariciak, who won gold in the cadet girls’ 47kg division. “I was just taking it all in so I could remember that moment and feeling to motivate me to keep working hard.”
This was the third national competition for the 13-year-old Vincent Massey Public School student. She said the gold medal winning performance is the biggest win of her young martial arts career and medalling at the event has been her goal every year.
The youngster admitted that while she’s competed on the national stage before, she felt added pressure and nerves competing in her hometown.
“I wanted to make all my friends and family proud,” added Bariciak. “But having all of them there to cheer me on gave me the courage and boost of energy I needed.”
She’s been with the Phoenix Academy since she was seven years old, and taekwondo has not only helped her maintain her fitness, but it has also helped her develop confidence, she said.
“I enjoy how I need to be both physically and mentally strong to do the sport well,” Bariciak said. “I need to be powerful, fast, flexible and strategic. Sometimes, it feels like a chess game where I need to predict my opponent’s strategy as I plan my next move. Only, it happens so fast that I need to trust my instincts more than anything.”
15-year-old Averbeck won gold in the junior girls’ 44kg division. She joined the Phoenix Academy when she was seven years old because she had been bullied and thought practising the martial art would help her.
Her father, Chris Averbeck, participated in martial arts years ago and re-joined with his daughter. Today, they are both second degree black belts.
“I am a lot more confident,” said the younger Averbeck.
She called her nationals victory a “very proud moment.”
“It was quite special,” the De La Salle student said.” I got to represent my team, my club and my hometown which was more special to me, because this is where I grew up.”
As nationals grew nearer, Averbeck trained up to 30 hours a week.
“I have really supportive teachers,” she said as she talked about how she balances her training with other aspects of her life, such as school. “Taekwondo has helped me manage my time and achieve my goals, while being more physically and mentally fit.”
Falling just short of a gold medal, Huard Berro won a silver medal in the senior men’s 87kg division. He said the result was bittersweet.
“It shows that I am one of the best in Canada but not the best, yet,” said the University of Ottawa graduate who also coaches with Phoenix Academy. “It’s a reminder that there is more work to be done.”
This was Huard Berro’s sixth National Championship. He said he was more anxious than nervous about competing in his first nationals since coming off reconstructive knee surgery.
“Most of my students and their parents have never seen me compete, so having Nationals in Ottawa allowed them to see what I have been working on to achieve for years.”
Huard Berro started Taekwondo at age 15, though he participated in other forms of martial arts long before then.
“Taekwondo was the first form of martial arts I genuinely decided to pursue because it allowed me to participate in a full contact Olympic sport that resembled the martial arts fights you saw in kung fu films,” he said.
Nail Mohamed’s 2nd place finish came in the junior girls’ 42kg division, while Andric won bronze in the junior girls’ 59kg category. Maleeka Mohamed won bronze in the cadet girls’ 33kg class.
Nadja Tesic of Capital Taekwondo Martial Arts won the gold medal of the junior girls’ 52kg division, while teammate Marianne Deleon finished 2nd in the junior girls’ 46kg class.
In Poomsae, the technical class of taekwondo, Tae E Lee Taekwondo’s Lisa Gibson won a bronze medal in the Under-60 women’s division.