From ATA World Volume 20, Number 2 Summer 2013
By Sue Webber
Watching a 2010 remake of the 1984 movie The Karate Kid gave 15-year-old Kaitlyn Pool an idea. “She said she wanted to learn something like that,” says her dad, Jott Pool.
So he began calling Taekwondo schools near their home in Odessa, Texas, hoping that one would be able to accommodate Kaitlyn, who was born deaf. She was “the new kid on the block,” having moved from Florida to live with her dad in Odessa.
“She was very shy,” Pool says. “In Florida she went to a school for the deaf. She wasn’t really included in a lot of things going on with hearing kids.”
But Master Laura Zant’s ATA Martial Arts Taekwondo school in Odessa “didn’t hesitate for a second” to welcome Kaitlyn warmly and surround her with support and friendship, he says. Girls from the school’s leadership program assured Kaitlyn they would stick with her for the first week to teach her the basics and get her caught up. “No place else but at ATA do things like that happen,” Zant says of the kinship that developed right away between the Taekwondo students. “Befriending a student who is new to town, befriending her at school, and helping her adjust to life in a new city.”
“I was very impressed with the way these young ladies didn’t bat an eyelash at the challenge,” Pool says. “Halfway through the first class, Kaitlyn said she loved it and wanted to stay. Before the class was over, she and the girls had all exchanged cell phone numbers.”
The next challenge was finding a way to communicate with her classmates and instructors. Kaitlyn solved that problem herself by teaching the students and instructors American Sign Language.
“Many people have never been around a deaf person before, and it is fun to teach them about us,”
Kaitlyn, now 16, says. So fun, in fact, she spends a portion of nearly every day but Sunday at the dojahng. She earned her 1st Degree Black Belt in December and has since become a junior instructor. “Being a trainee instructor allows me to pass on what I have learned to junior students, develop new warm-ups and games to be played in class, and learn to judge, keep time, and keep score at tournaments,” Kaitlyn says. “I love to help with the Tiny Tigers program.”
Kaitlyn’s 10-year-old sister, Ahlana, helps interpret for her sister in classes where Kaitlyn is a student, as well as the classes Kaitlyn helps to instruct. (Ahlana is a Blue Belt.) “She is a huge help to me, and I love her for it,” says Kaitlyn.
“The kids really respond to Kaitlyn,” says Zant, a 6th Degree Black Belt and owner and operator of the school. “And I have learned some things, too.” Along with American Sign Language, “I make sure I face her when I am speaking,” as Kaitlyn also reads lips.
When she’s not in Taekwondo classes, Kaitlyn is a sophomore at the Regional Day School for the Deaf, a program at the Odessa High School campus. She attends regular classes with hearing kids and has an interpreter for her classes.
Kaitlyn appreciates having an opportunity to learn how to defend herself. “There are so many awesome things about being a student of Master Zant’s,” she says. “I love combat weapons and learning my Black Belt forms. The instructors, students, and parents at ATA really are a second family for me.”
Kaitlyn’s long-term goal is to get her 5th Degree Black Belt and someday have her name in red letters on her dobok, signifying World Champ. Says her dad, “Being in Taekwondo has really helped Kaitlyn open up and have much more confidence with hearing people. We have to show up to class five to 10 minutes early so Kaitlyn can hug everybody. Everybody has been very supportive of us at all times. The people at ATA have made a huge difference in our lives.” ATA