EHS senior wins national title in Taekwon-Do

By on December 17, 2014
 Nicole Buitrago (right) of Ephrata poses with teammate Hannah Appel at the National Championships held in Houston, Texas.

Nicole Buitrago (right) of Ephrata poses with teammate Hannah Appel at the National Championships held in Houston, Texas.

On December 7, 17-year old Nicole Buitrago flew home from Houston, Texas as a Junior Female 120-pound National Champion in Taekwon-Do (TKD). The diminutive five-foot tall Ephrata High School senior captured the top prize in the Patterns, while finishing third in the sparring event.

The championship qualifies Buitrago for a trip with her long time coach and instructor Luis Mejia to the World Championships in Italy in May. Buitrago trains with Mejia at Advantage Taekwon-Do in Lititz. She’ll be joined at the World Championships by Warwick High School Sophomore Hannah Appel.

“Since I’m a smaller fighter, I try to get in as close as possible to use my hands for punches,” said Buitrago, when asked about her style in sparring. “Since my opponents often have longer legs, they have an advantage in kicking.”

An advantage that she overcame, besting 100 competitors in her class for the Championship.

So how did the martial arts attract this young champion?

“I started when I was five years old,” she explained. “My brother had been doing it for a year, and it was something we could do together. My mom even started taking lessons, two years after we started.”

Mejia talked about the main tenants of the sport. “We focus on courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control and indomitable spirit,” he said.

And what about his Ephrata champion?

“Nicole is determined, organized and trains very hard,” he said. “She actually stopped for two years, some time ago, but came back wanting to go for a world championship, and hasn’t missed since.”

Mejia himself started at age eight, and is now a fifth degree black belt as well as a Class A certified umpire, referee and National Director of the International TKD Federation.

Buitrago explains the two governing bodies. “We belong to the ITF,” she said. “Every other year there is a World Championship. On the off years, we have a world cup, which I competed in last year in Jamaica. Unfortunately, I didn’t place. The World TKD Federation (WTF) is the organization that participates in the Olympics.”

On the argument over speed vs. strength, Buitrago says, “I think that speed is more important. They don’t judge on how hard you hit, but the judges have to see the contact.”

Mejia leans toward more of a combination.

“The athlete must have both speed and strength,” he said. “The goal is to show realism to the judges while impressing your opponent with your strength. That requires a lot of work on the upper body.”

With trips to Jamaica, Texas and the more regional tournaments in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey in the rear-view mirror, Buitrago reflected on another requirement of the sport.

“Most of the financing is out of pocket, but we do a lot of fund-raisers and try to get sponsors,” she said.

With five months to go until Italy, fundraising will be a premium activity. Buitrago also commented on her training, leading up to the World Championships.

“I’ll be training in New York quite a bit, because the ITF US team coach is there,” she said. “Up until now, I have been training 2½ to three hours per day. But very soon, I’ll be doubling that.

On girls that she has gotten to know, she added, “I have friends from Florida, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, England, Italy, Jamaica and Argentina. When we went to the world cup, half of the competitors were from Argentina.”

After graduating from EHS in June (hopefully with a World Championship belt), Buitrago, a first degree Black Belt, plans to attend college.

“Penn State and Pitt are the front-runners,” she said. “I’ll look for a studio to continue my training.”

As to scoring at the World Championships?

“There are two, two-minute rounds,” she explained. “Whoever has the most points wins, and it is a double elimination tournament. You get one point for a punch above the waist, two for a kick to the torso, and three for a kick to the head.”

She will be competing with 14-17 year old girls who weigh between 115 and 120 pounds.

Hopefully, the next long plane ride will carry with it, the same result, another championship belt.

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