Athlete of the Week: Eau Claire trio makes Taekwondo Nationals

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Three Eau Claire Taekwondo athletes are on their way to Nationals: 16-year-old, Hendrik Bose, 13-year-old, Antonio Cruz, and 11-year-old, Isaac Johnson. The trio is our Osseo Automotive Athletes of the Week. SportScene 13’s Neil Hebert reports.

Eau Claire Taekwondo athletes will compete at nationals at the end of June.

Flashy footwork and high spin kicks: these Taekwondo athletes are on their way to nationals in Minneapolis at the end of the month.

“Two of our guys started when they were 3 years old,” John McCrackin, Master Instructor at American Taekwondo and Fitness in Eau Claire, said. “Hankster is 16 years old now, and Antonio is 13. Our 3rd competitor is Isaac Johnson, who’s been with us for 3-4 years.”

They started young, but they’ve stayed locked in to the sport for a range of reasons.

“It’s kind of satisfying when you get to that point, when you get to teach others what you’ve learned over the years,” Hendrink Bose, a national qualifier in the junior division, said. “It just seems natural to me after 12 years now. It just feels great doing this.”

“You get to kick people without getting in trouble,” Antonio Cruz, a national qualifier in the youth division, said with a smile. “There was one match 2 years ago, I gave him 2 pretty strong kicks and I made him tear up a little bit. That was one of my favorite matches.”

No, Antonio’s not a mean kid; he’s just ultracompetitive. He thinks those who don’t want to try it out should reconsider.

“They’re probably missing out on something. It helps out with a lot of other sports,” Cruz said. “They would get better at football, basketball, soccer, or whatever sport they were doing. And it’s fun to come down here.”

Taekwondo might be a niche sport, but the variations make it easy for anyone to try.

“There is a little bit for everybody. It’s not always the high-caliber kicking, punching, danger element that you see on the TV,” McCrackin said.

“It’s cool to learn all this. It’s cool to learn all the self-defense,” Bose said. “And as you grow older, you have more fun with it. You kind of find your niche. If you’re not really into the fighting aspect of Taekwondo, you could always do the other stuff.”

“I’ve been doing it since I was 5 years old and I tell people, the hardest part of Taekwondo is the 1st step in the door,” McCrackin said. “Being able to set goals for yourself, achieving those goals, whether it’s a belt promotion, or winning a gold medal at a tournament. Something that motivates you, and being able to see those goals accomplished is another aspect that gets people to keep coming back year after year.”

Being a Taekwondo athlete is like being part of a big family.

“You make new friends when you come here. And during a tournament, sometimes you can remember the person that you fought,” Cruz said. “It’s nice to see each other again to see how much better they’ve gotten.”

“You find out that it’s a little bit more than kicking and punching. It soon becomes a way of life,” McCrackin said. “And as you go through the ranks, you become an instructor, you become a teacher, and you get involved in the sport end of it: a lot of different outlets that interest people.”

Eau Claire Taekwondo athletes will compete at nationals at the end of June.