Youngster works her body and mind

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 2, 2005

In the classroom or at tae kwon do lessons, Kathy Cooper always gives it her all.

After taking up the martial art just two years ago, the 10-year-old Lady Suffolkian has already snared her blue belt (the third level of achievement), amassing several medals and trophies, including the Most Improved honor in her class for 2004.

In her fourth-grade class at Isle of Wight Academy (IWA), Kathy pulled in straight A’s for the whole school year – which recently helped her achieve an extra, special honor.

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Her journey in the Suffolk YMCA’s Warrior Club began in the summer of 2003.

&uot;My mom wanted me and my sister to do a sport for the summer,&uot; she remembered. &uot;She tried swimming, I tried tae kwon do. I had fun practicing with my dad, and he made it sound fun.&uot;

Her father Wendell has a black belt in shodo kan, a Japanese martial art.

By the end of her first year, Kathy already had a yellow belt, and got her green belt in early 2004. That summer, she and the rest of the team headed to Midlothian for her first tournament, the Virginia State Games.

&uot;It was pretty tough,&uot; she said. &uot;They didn’t have any girls at my level, so I had to fight a girl two belts higher than me. She beat me, but I thought I did pretty well. It helped me learn what was going to happen when I was sparring with other opponents.&uot;

She came home with a second-place award for sparring and a third for forms. Twice a week, she kept going to the Y for lessons, and instructor Wayne Spencer had noticed.

&uot;Some kids come in shy and introverted,&uot; he said. &uot;Kathy was a little shy at first, but now she’ll fight kids who are bigger than her. They whale on her, and she whales back.&uot;

That Christmas, the Warriors held their annual year-end banquet. That’s when Spencer announced who had come the farthest for the period.

&uot;I was kind of surprised,&uot; Kathy said of her award. &uot;I didn’t know I’d get the trophy.&uot;

Spencer had for a while.

&uot;Kathy hangs in there and doesn’t give up,&uot; he said. &uot;Those are the qualities you want in a student. I’ve seen kids lose one match and quit, and I don’t think she’ll do that.&uot;

Indeed; at AAU competition in Williamsburg this past May, Kathy brought home two second-place finishes in sparring. In early June, she got her blue belt.

&uot;I was a little nervous,&uot; she said of the belt test. I had been practicing, but I didn’t feel like I knew it completely. I did all right.&uot;

In school, she does even better than that.

&uot;I always have to get my homework done before I go to tae kwon do,&uot; she said. &uot;I spend between two and four hours a night studying.&uot;

A member of the IWA student council, Kathy was one of 12 students from the school nominated to attend the Governor’s School, attended by 60 students from across the area. A few weeks ago, a special phone call came – Kathy had been accepted. Starting July 11, she’ll be spending a few hours every morning learning about electricity, geology, archeology, and pesticides at Windsor High School.

&uot;It sounds like fun,&uot; she said. &uot;I want to study electricity, because I like working with little electric equipment.&uot;

Of course, she’ll still be working at the fitness facility.

&uot;I enjoy playing with my friends, and Mr. Spencer’s a really good teacher,&uot; she said. &uot;I’m going to stay for as long as I can.&uot;