Years ago, in a downstairs room full of mats and people, there was a little girl with a blonde ponytail, fine features and a giant load of passion and determination. Her name was Kayla Maduk. One of many students at Kou’s Taekwon-Do, she was three and a half when she joined her brother, Greg, and dad, James, at the family-oriented dojang in Barrhaven. Even when she was little, as siblings on the sidelines fiddled with action figures and young classmates dawdled along, Kayla wasn’t fooling around. She took the tenets of taekwon-do— courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit—to heart.
Talk about heart. Today, the three-time world champion is getting set to compete for her fourth and fifth gold medals at the 2015 ITF Taekwon-Do World Championships in Italy. Now 19, Kayla has recently completed her first year in the commerce program at Carleton University. She’s also a motivational speaker, an entrepreneur and a community leader who inspires all ages. In fact a local newspaper named her its 2014 Person of the Year. And we can all learn something from her inspired approach to sport and life.
Goal setting: “I write my goal down and put it in the wishing pot my grandma gave me.”
Process: Put a plan into action; surround yourself with key people; do the work on every level possible; push yourself outside your comfort zone; and believe “I can do this.”
Outlook: Although taekwon-do is a Korean art of self-defense—tae means foot technique, kwon means hand technique and do means way of life—for Kayla it’s more than athleticism; the way of life truly resonates.
Spirituality, contentment, healing and life energy all come into play as she taps all her physical and emotional resources to succeed.
Form: Kayla’s “way” is as uplifting as it is unconventional: she does patterns in the dark to classical music.
“Like dance, you can tell a story through what you’re doing,” she explains, adding, “I want to use taekwondo as a vehicle to share my passion and who I am.”
Who is Kayla Maduk?
On a weekday morning at a coffee shop, Kayla’s eyes light up as she talks about how the little girl with the ponytail was able to achieve the ultimate and become a world champ.
“I think it was my passion and drive,” she says of her development into an elite international athlete. “And making sure I had the right coach and the right opportunities.” Call it an opportunity or a make-or-break moment; one of those occasions was quite literally a break. When she was eight, Kayla fractured two bones in her foot doing a flying sidekick. Did it hurt? Yes. Did it slow her down? Not exactly. She still remembers what she wrote on her cast: “World Champion 2011.”
Yup. In 2011, she became world champion. En route, though, she got a lot of help from her dad, James, and her mom, Heather. “My parents were extremely supportive and that made a huge difference. Without them, nothing would have happened.”
Encouragement came from other sources as well. By the time she was 12 or 13, Kayla had her first-degree black belt and was teaching students at Kou’s. That’s when Master Kou suggested she continue her training with instructor Steven LeGrow at his Team Blackburn martial arts centre. It was a big move. There were many competitive athletes, including former world champions, at the new dojang, Kayla says, admitting, “I was really scared. It was a humbling transition because people were older and better than me.”
Did she bow out? Of course not. “I figured if I worked harder and was more passionate than anybody else, eventually I would start working my way up. “
That’s what happened.
While attending school and playing soccer at the provincial level, Kayla nonetheless zeroed in on taekwondo-do. She got a key to the dojang and after one or two classes she’d stay for another hour, with her dad serving as her training partner.
It paid off. After a couple of years, she tested for her second-degree black belt and earned the right to compete at the nationals in Vancouver. Exciting? Absolutely. The year was 2010, she’d just finished watching the Vancouver Olympics on TV, and the nationals were slated to take place at the Olympic speed skating oval. For the shy teen, it was also intimidating. During the warm-up her confidence wavered; then she lost her first match and almost didn’t qualify for a chance to compete at the worlds. However, Kayla persevered and was named to the ITF Canadian National Taekwon-Do Team for the 2011 world championships in New Zealand, where she earned a gold and two silver medals.
It was transformative experience. Not only did she learn important life lessons, when she returned home “all these opportunities started popping up.” Schools were asking Kayla to speak to classes. “People really wanted to know who I was and how I did it.”
How did she do it?
Although training and qualifying involve a two-year process, it wasn’t long before new goals went into her wish pot: the 2013 world championships in Spain and two gold medals. This time, though, Kayla got creative about self-empowerment.
To conquer the all-important warm-up and “bring some girl swagger to the sport” she designed her own custom hoodie, a hot pink one with the word BELIEVE on the front. “It was kind of like my Superman cape. When I put the hoodie on and put the hood up with my headphones, nothing and no one could touch me. It really helped me get into my happy place.”
But months before the worlds and weeks before the nationals, Kayla’s elbow was injured. This was another one of those make-or-break moments. “I’m a huge believer that everything happens for a reason,” she says. “It’s up to you to decide what that reason is.” Kayla decided to tape up her elbow and keep on going. “Once you make it through, you are that much stronger.”
She went on to earn her spot on Team Canada and to collect those two gold medals in Spain. Since then she has graduated from high school (as valedictorian and Community Builder Award winner), created a five-step goal setting program she shares with schools and community groups, and started selling Believe hoodies to fans from coast to coast.
The talks and the merchandise are as focused as Kayla. Her Believe Project she describes as “mental and physical empowerment to find your passion, gain self-confidence and become the best version of yourself.”
And it’s not just kids who are encouraged by her example. She mentions addressing a group of mothers and daughters and noticing moms nodding their heads as she spoke. “It’s really about finding your passion, doing the work that will build your confidence and letting it transfer to your entire life.”
As for Kayla’s future, she wants to work with people and make a difference somehow. “The rest?” she grins. “I’ll let life figure that one out for me.
“I believe things are going to work out, because I’m putting in the work.” For details and to sponsor Kayla, see ikicklikeagirl.com.