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Through my Taekwondo training I've learned how to defend myself, but as a Leadership student, I also received advanced lessons with traditional weapons. I never imagined that using something as simple as a Bo Staff could be so empowering! Although I hope I never have to defend myself against an attacker, I now have the confidence and ability to do so.
–Christina Morales, Brown Belt, 18 years old

From ATA World Volume 19, Number 4 Winter 2012

Kristy Lipe was told she would never be able to participate in sports. Born with cerebral palsy, she cannot walk, speak, or use her limbs normally, and she’s confined to a wheelchair most of the time.

Yet the Bartlett, Tenn. native is a 2nd Degree Black Belt and World Champion who helps instruct Tiny Tigers classes, and she’s even a tournament judge.

“Physically, Taekwondo is the best therapy I’ve ever had in my whole life,” Kristy, age 22, says. She started training eight years ago to loosen her limbs. Today she’s accomplished everything she’s set her mind to.

From Therapy to Taekwondo

“When I was 7 or 8 years old, I saw my friends from church taking Taekwondo,” Kristy says. “I was dying to do it, too!” At 14, Kristy joined Bartlett ATA Martial Arts and started doing one-on-one Taekwondo sessions with a licensed physical therapist.

In the beginning, getting her limbs to cooperate was tough. “Her hand coordination started out like a 4- to 6-month old,” says Susan Lipe, Kristy’s mother. She couldn’t straighten her legs or open her hands. In order to grip weapons, instructors would strap them to Kristy’s hands with a velcro system.

Now Kristy, who uses an assistive technology device that helps her talk, text, and use a computer, can hold a two-pound weight and weapons.

“The physical therapy we’ve received from Taekwondo has been overwhelmingly amazing,” Susan says. “Kristy has gained control of muscles we never thought possible.” It’s so amazing that it’s the only physical therapy Kristy does. She trains four to five days a week, doing a mix of private and group classes.

Part of the reason Taekwondo has been so effective is because of Kristy’s determination to succeed. Even if it takes her longer than other students to complete a task, Kristy works at it. While in a group class, students may warm up by running around the room. Someone will push Kristy’s wheelchair, but she will move her legs as if she is running. “She has worked exceptionally hard to where you can actually tell what moves she is doing,” says Master Betsey Stevens, owner of Bartlett ATA Martial Arts and ATA’s international chair of tournaments. It’s all from Kristy’s core belief that she can do anything—and her determination to do it.

An ATA Education

In addition to the physical benefits, being part of ATA has helped Kristy in other aspects of her life. “She calls Taekwondo her college,” Susan says. “The self-confidence she has gained has increased 100 percent. ATA is the vast majority of her social life, and she really enjoys the kids, parents, classmates, and teachers.”

As part of ATA’s instructor training program, Kristy studies and completes all the requirements any other student completes except those from which her cerebral palsy physically limits her. Working through the manual and typing out the lessons has even helped Kristy’s reading comprehension. Nearly every day, Kristy helps instruct the Tiny Tiger classes. The assistive technology device she uses allows Kristy to verbalize commands to the students.

That’s not all it allows her to do. At the 2012 World Championships in June, Kristy was a judge in the special abilities ring. She used the assistive technology device like this: After watching a competitor, Kristy typed a number into her device to report her score. Her mother sat by her and relayed Kristy’s score to the judge.

It was Kristy’s first time judging a major tournament, and it marked a milestone for ATA and Taekwondo, too. Kristy became the first person in ATA and Taekwondo history to use an assistive technology device to judge a competition.

“Being the first judge with a communication device feels pretty incredible,” Kristy says, and she hopes to judge more competitions and reach more goals in ATA. She has her sights set on getting her 4th Degree, becoming a repeat World Champion, a Certified Instructor, and more. “I want to be a Master someday,” she says.

Kristy’s determination and belief that she can accomplish anything, and her determination to work through her obstacles and prove it, make her a shining example of ATA Strong. “It feels awesome accomplishing so much through ATA,” Kristy says. “If you saw me a few years ago, compared to now, I’m not the same. ATA has helped me find who I am.” ATA

(Clockwise from top left) Lipe and Grand Master In Ho Lee after she judged at the 2011 World Championships; Lipe and her parents; Lipe and her instructors – Mr. Rosa, Master Stevens and Mr. Miles; then-Grand Master Soon Ho Lee awarding Lipe her Black Belt.