Five days out of the week, 10-year-old Zoee Martinson can be found training at Twin Tigers Taekwondo in Tacoma.
There, the South Hill resident and black belt practices moves like roundhouse kicks and her favorite — cut kicks.
They’re the same moves she used last month at the Northern California Taekwondo Games in San Jose, California, when all that stood between her and a gold medal was one opponent.
She was only one point behind, and the match was getting down to the wire. But a roundhouse kick to the stomach was all Zoee needed to get ahead.
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“I beat her in the last 20 seconds,” Zoee said.
Along with a gold medal in traditional forms, Zoee claimed the gold medal in the Olympic Sparring Youth Girls’ Division category.
Her Twin Tigers teammate, 12-year-old Karla Rosario-Santos, won gold medals in board breaking and sparring as well.
“We went to In-N-Out Burger to celebrate,” Rosario-Santos said.
The way Zoee sees it, taking home the gold was just another step toward her goal of competing on an Olympic Sparring Team.
“I like sparing the best,” Zoee said. “I like to get that experience.”
The path to the Olympics is a dedicated and challenging one — and Zoee recognizes the commitment that it takes.
“She misses out on a lot (of other activities), but we never force her into it,” said Jenell, Zoee’s mother. “She wants to go on to the next level.”
Zoee, a fifth-grader at Shaw Road Elementary in Puyallup, balances her time between training and schoolwork. After school on weekdays, her parents drive her to Twin Tigers for an hour and a half training session before commuting home.
If she can manage it, she’ll practice at home, too.
“We have mats in our garage,” Jenell said.
Zoee comes from an active family. Jenell played soccer in high school while her husband, Billy, played football. Zoee’s 8-year-old sister does gymnastics, while her 13-year-old sister plays soccer.
“I think it teaches them discipline. It keeps them busy,” Jenell said. “It’s nice that all three of our girls have something different. They all push each other.”
Zoee’s grandfather was her only family member involved in martial arts.
“He used to do judo so he always wanted me to do martial arts of some kind,” she said.
So when the family stumbled along a taekwondo demo at a local market, Zoee tried it out.
My first class, I automatically loved it.
“My first class, I automatically loved it,” she said.
With Zoee keeping her weight under 70 pounds to compete, the sport also gives Jenell some peace of mind.
“It’s nice to see her being able to defend herself — especially with her being so small,” she said.
“Anything can happen,” agreed Rosario-Santos.
Zoee came to Daniel Ramirez’s studio last April. He teaches 40 students overall, but has eight students in his competition group, including Zoee.
“That’s her dream — to someday compete in the World Championships in the Olympics,” said Ramirez, a retired U.S. Army veteran and a former International Taekwondo Champion. “The sky is the limit with Zoee.”
That’s her dream — to someday compete in the World Championships in the Olympics. The sky is the limit with Zoee.
Daniel Ramirez, former International Taekwondo Champion
Now, Zoee has competitions across the country laid out for the next few months. It’s all part of her long-term goals.
At the end of this month, she and Rosario-Santos will travel to Long Beach, California for the 28th Jimmy Kim Invitational Taekwondo Championships.
Disneyland is not too far away, she noted.
And maybe, if she takes home another medal, she’ll stop by to celebrate.