Two CSUN students have kicked their way into the Tae Kwon Do Collegiate World Championship.
Alexander Ahlstrom and Stephon Westbrook are part of the Tae Kwon Do 2011 Collegiate National Team, which they won at UC Davis and are on their way to the world university games in August.
“It’s almost like a mini Olympics because they don’t just have tae kwon do, they have weight lifting, swimming, tennis, boxing, like a lot of different sports,” said Ahlstrom, 24, working on an informations systems degree.
Ahlstrom and Westbrook, who have known each other since they were approximately ten years old and have been teammates for four years, will be two people among 16 from across the country to compete for the title.
“It was really nice (to make the team) because we kinda grew up together,” said Westbrook, 21, kinesiology major.
Ahlstrom said colleges that have tae kwon do teams can send their athletes to compete.
“CSUN does not have a (tae kwon do) program, but since I am enrolled here, I can represent in the national or world university games,” Ahlstrom said.
Ahlstrom, who has been practicing tae kwon do for 14 years since the age of 10 said that when he enrolled at CSUN, he saw an opportunity to compete so he went for it.
Ahlstrom earned second place at the U.S. National team last year and third place the year before.
He added that he has lost count of the number of competitions he has participated in.
“It’s indescribable, when you finally make it,” he said.
Ahlstrom said there are 26 people in their division, from all over the country, and their team consists of seven to eight people.
“We have one of the strongest teams in the nation,” Westbrook said.
Although he says he is not a very superstitious person, Ahlstrom said he likes to listen to Bob Marley and drink a cup of coffee to help him relax before a competition but once the fight begins everything goes away.
“I train hard enough, long enough to where when it’s time to fight, there’s nothing else about it,” he said.
For his part, Westbrook said he says a prayer before competing.
Ahlstrom said the biggest challenge of doing tae kwon do is finding the time, because besides training with his coaches everyday for up to two hours and doing some strength training on his own for competitions, he works two jobs and attends school full time.
Ahlstrom, who not only works on campus with computers support also teaches at Kings Combat Sports, a mixed martial arts, tae kwon do and Brazilian jiujitsu training facility in Chatsworth, where he met his coach, Luis Reyes.
Reyes, a member of the U.S. National Team and Master at Kings Combat Sports coaches both CSUN students and said time management is key to being able to not only coach Westbrook and Ahlstrom but also compete himself.
“They’re both really good athletes and good people,” Reyes said.
Westbrook said it is great to have Reyes as a coach because besides having someone to train with, he can find someone to relate to.
A few months ago, Ahlstrom competed for the Olympic trials but did not qualify. He said he is still debating about trying for the 2016 Olympics because it will depend on his career since he is graduating in two semesters and does not know if he wants to continue doing taekwondo.
“It’s very time consuming,” Ahlstrom said. “I’ve sacrificed a lot to do this sport and to compete at the level I compete at and so I don’t know if I can justify continuing making that sacrifice especially as I get older and my career picks up, I may not have the time.”
Ahlstrom said that although he is not a very violent person, it is the fighting he enjoys the most when practicing tae kwon do.
“I really do enjoy just stepping in the ring and competing and all the training we do up to that point,” he said. “There’s just nothing like it. There is nothing like fighting.”
Ahlstrom said tae kwon do has changed his life he has become a completely different person than if he would have not been in martial arts.
“It gives you a lot of confidence, you really learn at what you’re good at as far as your personality, you really just get to know yourself,” he said.
Although he spends most of his time practicing tae kwon do, Ahlstrom said he does not see it as something he wants to all of his life.
“In the United States, there’s not a lot of ways to make money doing tae kwon do, so it’s not something I see to support myself in the future or support a family with,” he said. “You can make money doing it, but not much.”
As for Westbrook, he said he will continue to compete as long as he can.
“It’s a nice feeling to have, we (Ahlstrom) both made the team,” he said.