Manitoba

Competing in 2020 Olympics dream come true for Winnipeg martial artist and her coach — who's also her dad

Since childhood, Skylar Park has wanted to win a gold medal at the Olympics. Last month, she found out she'll be going to Tokyo this year to compete in the Games for the first time.

Skylar Park, 20, qualified last month to compete in taekwondo at 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Local taekwondo fighter Skylar Park learned last month that she will represent Canada at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A local martial artist is one step closer to her childhood dream, and she can't stop smiling about it. 

Since childhood, Skylar Park has wanted to win a gold medal at the Olympics. Last month, Park found out she'll be competing for Canada at the 2020 Tokyo Games this summer.

"I'm super excited," she said. "This is something that I've dreamed of, and this has been my goal for I don't even know how long."

Park, one of the top taekwondo fighters in the world in her weight class, was on a tear in 2019. She won medals in numerous competitions, including a silver at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru last year.

Those successes allowed her to qualify for the Olympics based on her ranking, she said. But it ultimately came down to how she performed at a tournament in Moscow in early December.

"We knew that I had to make it so far in the competition," Park explained, adding that she had to win bronze if one of two particular fighters won the whole tournament. Otherwise, she would have missed the cut this time around.

One of those fighters was Marta Calvo Gomez of Spain.

Midway through the competition, Calvo Gomez approached Park and informed her that she had lost her match — which meant the 20-year-old Winnipegger was going to the Olympics.

"I was still focused on fighting, so I didn't get too excited because I had a competition to focus on," Park said. "But after that was over, we celebrated a little bit."

Park's father and coach, Jae Park, says the whole thing still hasn't sunk in.

"But to actually have my daughter achieve that, and to be her coach and her father, to go together to the Olympics and to try to represent Canada the best that we can — that's pretty exciting," he added.

"I mean, it's the Olympics — it's the biggest event in the world."

Preparing for Tokyo

As any Olympian will attest, it takes years of training to make it to the Games.

But the next seven months will be key, says Jae Park, because he and Skylar can now focus on training, as opposed to worrying about qualifying for the Olympics.

And an intense seven months it will be — Park trains six to eight hours per day, six days a week.

Park trains between six and eight hours per day, six days per week, says father and coach Jae Park. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

That doesn't include travelling to competitions, nor the time she needs to do online coursework for the kinesiology degree she's pursuing at the University of Manitoba.

"There's a lot of work, there's a lot of sacrifices," Park said. "But in the end, I really love what I'm doing and I have a goal that I want to achieve.

"We're not there yet. That's what keeps me motivated."

Park noted that, naturally, there are days where she's sore and it's tougher to find the motivation to put in the work. But her love for taekwondo helps her persevere.

"I love coming [to the gym] and training with my family, every day."

A family affair

Both Park and her father are often asked how they keep their familial and sport relationships separate.

The answer: they don't. Nor do they try.

"That's just kind of how it's always been," Skylar Park said. "I trust him and everything he tells me.

"I really enjoy the relationship that we have, and we're really close. Not only [as] coach and athlete, but just in life."

Park and her father, Jae Park, are often asked how they separate their familial and sports relationships. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Jae Park goes a step further, saying taekwondo is "a lifestyle for our family."

That may be an understatement, as 16 members of the Park family have black belts.

Skylar Park's grandfather is a grandmaster, as is Jae Park; two of her brothers are competing to qualify for the Pan Am Games in March, as is one of her cousins. Her mother, Andrea — who also goes by Master Andi — was Park's first taekwondo coach.

That sort of ingrained culture affects an athlete.

Jae Park says his daughter was spending time in TRP Academy — the Park family-owned taekwondo and hapkido school that opened in 1993 — "before she could walk."

Among the trophies and plaques in Jae Park's office is a photo of a one-year-old Skylar, sporting a taekwondo uniform with a black belt — even though, her mother notes, Skylar didn't earn her black belt until age seven.

"We knew she had something when she was three years old," Jae Park said. "Just that kind of a different mindset that I hadn't seen before."

Jae Park told CBC News that his daughter has been coming to the family's taekwondo academy since 'before she could walk.' (Nicholas Frew/CBC)

Though Park and her father are the face of the team, it's a true family effort. Her younger brothers are her sparring partners, her grandfather will sit down with her and study film of her fights, and Andrea Park carries the load as manager and makes sure her daughter eats well and stays mentally healthy.

"When I was younger, I just loved doing taekwondo because I was doing it with my family. I'm still doing it with my family, which I love," Park said.

"It's nice to be surrounded by people who you know have your best interest in mind."

Park had some down time from training recently, although not as much as Jae Park would have liked.

She was helping her brothers and cousin to prepare for the national qualifiers, to earn a chance to compete at the Pan Am Olympic qualifiers in March, he explains.

"They were instrumental in being able to help her get to this stage, so she's actually just paying it forward."

The family will travel to South Korea about a week before the Olympics start so Park can get acclimated, says Andrea Park.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games begin July 24.

About the Author

Nicholas Frew is an online reporter based in Winnipeg. Hailing from Newfoundland, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school before moving to Winnipeg. Prior to joining CBC Manitoba, Frew interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. Story idea? Email at nick.frew@cbc.ca

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