Just For Kicks: NYU Taekwondo Team Discusses Their Season’s Premature Ending

With the cancellation of nationals, a temporary pause on their pursuit for a Division I promotion and even a false alarm coronavirus scare at a competition, the NYU Taekwondo team discuss their reactions to their season’s early end and reflect on their favorite memories of the season.

Pictured is NYU’s Taekwondo team after practice at Palladium Gym. Athletes reflected on a premature end to their season and discussed their future plans for the sport. (Image courtesy of NYU Taekwondo Club Sport)

When she first heard that their upcoming tournament at New Jersey State would be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, Steinhardt senior Christine Zheng thought she would use the extra time to train. It wasn’t until the subsequent cancellation of all future tournaments, including Nationals, that she began to think she might have competed in her last Taekwondo tournament. 

“It didn’t hit me until like a while later,” Zheng said. “I realized that I’m a senior, and that’s it. My season ended. I was really looking forward to the tournament. I was looking forward to Nationals. So it was pretty disappointing.”

Steinhardt senior Christine Zheng in red gear spars against an opponent at the MIT tournament earlier in October. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

The coronavirus was already in the minds of the NYU Taekwondo team before NYU announced the cancellation of all spring sports on March 13. A couple days after a tournament at Princeton University on March 8, the team learned, many through the team’s Facebook message group, that they might have come in contact with someone with the coronavirus at the tournament. Fortunately, they learned a few days later that the person was not a carrier, but for those couple of days, the news left the team with a lot to think about without much they could do.

A lot of us were really nervous,” Liberal Studies first-year Casey Ufferman said. “Just the amount of people that were there, it was concerning.”

Liberal Studies first-year Casey Ufferman sparring in red gear scores three points with a headshot against an opponent at the Princeton tournament in March. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)
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When the announcement came, the team was also the number one ranked team in Division II, pushing to accrue enough points for promotion into Division I. For Tandon junior and team president Jonathan Ahn, the team’s performance this season makes the cancellation even more devastating. 

“When I first heard [the news] I was disappointed because I feel like we were having a good streak,” Ahn said. “I was looking forward to everyone’s performance, not only in the college tournament but the state tournament.”

Members come into the team with varying degrees of experience with the sport. Zheng was already a black belt when she joined the team. Tisch sophomore Ainsley Roh, whose parents have both previously done Taekwondo, also took up the sport when she was young but soon quit to focus on soccer. When Roh saw the team’s booth at club fest, she signed up more out of intrigue than anything.  

I think honestly at first I was just curious,” Roh said. “But then I was like, since I’m not doing soccer anymore, I might as well give it a try, and I ended up really liking it.”

Tisch sophomore and NYU Taekwondo team vice president Ainsley Roh sparring in red gear goes for a head shot against the Cornell women’s heavyweight at the Brown tournament in November. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

Some join wanting to pick up a competitive sport while others might join more for the experience. Each member is given the latitude to explore their interest in the sport how they see fit. 

“The way the team works is that you get to choose how much commitment you want to put in for it,” Zheng said. “So it can either take up a lot of your time or it can just be a hobby.”

This exploratory environment stems from Ahn’s priorities as president. Ahn comes into each season with high expectations for success, but his principle responsibility is to create a comfortable environment for all members like his former teammates did for him. 

“I’m always glad to see new faces each year and to welcome them to the team as I was welcomed when I first joined,” Ahn said. 

Tandon junior and NYU Taekwondo team captain Jonathan Ahn sparring in red gear scores three points with a headshot against a Rutgers opponent at the Princeton tournament in March. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

The familial atmosphere that the senior members create often drives the team’s newcomers to become more involved with the team. After joining the team, Roh attended every practice and tournament and quickly found herself wanting to become a bigger part of the team. Now, she is the team’s vice president, in charge of coordinating team bonding events and helping Ahn run the practices.

Her favorite part about this season was the memories made during the bus rides to and from tournaments. Players might begin the bus rides doing their own things such as listening to music or doing homework, but eventually, lively conversations will always form across the bus. Sometimes her teammates bring their Nintendo Switches, and they play Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. Although her sophomore season ended early, Roh cherishes the impact that NYU Taekwondo has had on her life.

“[Taekwondo] is a great way to just get some physical activity, but it’s mostly the people, getting to bond with your teammates and going to competitions together,” Roh said. “I’ve met some of my closest friends through Taekwondo.”

A version of this article appears in the Monday, April 27, 2020, e-print edition. Email Kevin Ryu at [email protected]

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