Soccer or taekwondo?
The answer for six-year-old Markie Keelan was simple. Whatever Jodi, her older sister, chose was what she wanted to do.
Thirteen years later, Keelan, a 19-year-old CSUN psychology major, has a third-degree black belt in taekwondo.
Keelan won five gold medals, three silver medals and three bronze medals since 2003, the USA Taekwondo Web site shows.
“I like to fight, but I don’t like to get hurt,” Keelan said. A broken nose, jaw, and multiple rolled ankles are injuries that Keelan sustained from participating in taekwondo.
Keelan said the broken nose was “a silly little thing,” but the broken jaw was “embarrassing.”
In practice, Keelan held a paddle for another teammate, and when the teammate attempted to kick the paddle, the teammate missed and connected with Keelan’s jaw. “Now, looking back it is kind of funny,” Keelan said.
Keelan practices Olympic-style taekwondo at Progression Sports Performance, a private gym in Chatsworth. She is a part of Team Jiro, a 15-member team that competes locally, nationally and internationally.
“In training, it’s a team aspect, but for competition we go out there and compete individually,” said Simona Hradil, Keelan’s 32-year-old teammate.
Keelan was admitted to the National Collegiate Team in May 2008. Her membership allows her to compete at the national and international levels as an adult.
In July, Keelan competes at the U.S. National Taekwondo Championship in Detroit, Mich. and at the 10 World University Taekwondo Championship in Belgrade, Serbia.
Teammates Hradil and Naomi Sta. Maria, 28, describe Keelan as “ruthless” and “relentless” in a match.
“Big things come in small packages,” Hradil said about Keelan’s 5-foot-4-inch stature. She competes as a fin weight -103.6 lbs. When Keelan fights, “I just see red,” Hraldi said.
“It’s a combative sport,” Sta. Maria said. “You have to hit someone to win.”
Keelan never backs down from anyone, Sta. Maria said.
“She motivates me,” said Sta. Maria, who has only been practicing taekwondo for five years. It is her attitude, Sta. Maria said. Sta. Maria sees it in Keelan’s body language and voice when she competes.
Dressed in a dobok, white pants, white long sleeve top with a black v-neck and her black belt, Keelan prepares to fight three two-minute rounds. She also wears proper protection gear consisting of headgear, chest guard, shin guards, forearm guards and a mouthpiece.
Five judges monitor each match based on a point system. Though there are several ways to win a tournament, Keelan listed five ways, and she prefers a knockout or seven-point-gap win.
“It’s an easy win because you know you won,” Keelan said.
She scored a knockout win at a Lancaster tournament when she was 16.
A seven-point-gap win “makes me feel good,” said Keelan, as it lets her know she is significantly better than her opponent.
“Mental state hinders us from performing,” Keelan said. “I do a lot of visualizations when I fight to get my nerves down and be successful.”
When Keelan is met with physical contact, her initial reaction is to get upset, and it causes her to get riled up, thwarting her focus.
“Staying calm puts everything in perspective,” Keelan said. Her biggest struggle in a match is staying in control of her mind, Keelan said.
Everyone’s strategy in taekwondo is different, Keelan said. Her strategy is to try to remain calm, but sometimes she diverts from it.
“If it gets down to when I’m losing, I just try to bring the fire out.”
Diane Keelan, her mother, a second-degree black belt, said, “We’re all black belts here,” with the exception of her husband. “He just pays for it.”
“She takes a lot of initiative,” said Diane Keelan.
It is wrong for parents to bribe their child to win, Diane Keelan said. “They have to push themselves.”
“It’s brutal,” said Keelan’s mother about many kids who quit when they lose or get hurt.
But this is not Keelan. “Markie was one of those kids who took it for what it was and never took it personally,” Diane Keelan said.
“I’m the one who tells everyone,” said Diane Keelan, who describes her daughter as humble. “As a parent, it’s something I’m really proud of.”
“She has a passion for taekwondo,” Diane Keelan said. “Markie is exceptionally well at it.”
In 2005, Keelan was ranked as No. 1 in junior taekwondo league in the Western hemisphere after participating in the Junior Pan Am Tournament in Aruba.
After making the USA Junior National Team, a team for 14 to 17 year-olds, and now the National Collegiate Team, a team for competitors 17 and older, Keelan’s future plans consist of making the U.S. National Team and the U.S. Olympic Team.
Keelan said her ultimate goal is to compete in the Olympics. Taekwondo has only been an official Olympic sport for the last eight years.
It is the highest honor one can achieve, Keelan said about being apart of the Olympic team. Only four people from each country can compete at the Olympic Games, and it only occurs every four years.
“Taekwondo, as a whole, has taught me to be a better student because it has taught me how to focus,” Keelan said.
At 16, Keelan and her USA Junior National Team went to an Olympic training center, and she saw the interaction between the athletes.
“Pressure in any sport is just enormous,” Keelan said.
“There needs to be a change in focus from just focusing on the sport,” Keelan said.