MAPLE GROVE, Minn. — “The first thing you typically learn is Chah Ryut, which is basically hands at your sides standing up straight,” said Ava Lee, a junior at Maple Grove, explain the basics of Taekwondo. “This is what you’ll do before a match. And then Kyung Nae, which is ‘bow.’ You bow down to show respect to your opponent.”
Taekwondo might not be Minnesota’s most popular sport. But the World Taekwondo Academy dojang in Maple Grove is the home to some of the country’s top up-and-coming talent.
“Winning a senior event at 16 it’s crazy. I mean, it’s not common so I was very proud of my results,” said Lee.
Ava Lee recently moved up to fight elite competition. Her younger sister Jessica rose from cadet to junior level in that same tournament. Both took gold.
“It makes me a proud father for them to achieve the things they have,” said Grandmaster Eui Yong Lee. “But it is stressful.”
Their father, Grandmaster Lee, knows the stress well. He has coached the U.S. Olympic Taekwondo team, and now does the same for Haiti, who the sisters currently represent. From a young age, hours upon hours, spent on the mat.
“It was great to be here 24/7 training always, with my teammates and stuff,” said Jessica Lee.
“Sometimes it was hard,” said Ava Lee. “I’d wanna come home and play. But now I’m grateful that I kept doing it.”
Now it’s paying off. The Pan Am Championships are coming up, with Worlds around the corner. That means a lot of travel.
“It’s kind of like a rock star lifestyle. We’re always traveling. We’re always training,” said Eui Yong Lee.
It’s also a lot of time together with your sister.
“Sure we bicker,” said Ava Lee. “But I’m grateful to always have a training partner and she’s my best friend so.”
The sisters have Olympic aspirations.
“Yeah that would be pretty cool to be in the same Olympics as her,” said Jessica Lee. “But I’m still very young.”
A globetrotting life, focused on one special skill.
“I’m so grateful this is my life,” said Ava Lee. “I wouldn’t want to change any of it.”