For Hong Kong’s brightest young taekwondo star Charlene Chu, kicking butt runs in the family.
Her primary trainer is her mother – who is also an elite taekwondo athlete – so it’s hardly a surprise that the 17-year-old is the top-ranked fighter for her age group.
“She is my biggest source of inspiration,” Charlene, a student at St Margaret’s Co-educational English Secondary and Primary School, said about her mother. “She is still one of the top taekwondo athletes in Hong Kong and has won competitions in Hong Kong and all over Asia.”
Although Charlene is a member of the Hong Kong taekwondo squad and, therefore, has a whole team of coaches, she still mainly relies on her mum for guidance.
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“She taught me almost everything I know,” she said. “It’s great having her as my coach because we can just practise moves at home.”
It hasn’t always been easy for Charlene, or her mum, who suffered serious knee injuries over the course of her career. “Seeing my mum come back from knee surgery even stronger than before, I saw that she had the quality of never giving up and I thought: ‘I want to be like that’.”
As for Charlene, a Student of the Year (Sportsperson) finalist, she has had to overcome her own injuries, and mental roadblocks – most notably, stage fright.
“It was very humiliating when I was taken over by stage fright, and it was especially bad afterwards because I know I didn’t perform my best,” she said. “It became a problem throughout 2016 and I couldn’t win any championships because I was always too nervous to perform. It was just terrible.”
Fortunately, she had a breakthrough moment in March last year when she decided she wasn’t going to let it get the better of her any more.
“It was a local competition where I just decided to go out there, be brave, listen to my coach and let whatever happened, happen,” Charlene said. “Even though I didn’t win that competition, it was still one of the proudest moments of my career because I knew I tried my best and I had finally broken through stage fright.”
Since then, Charlene has been on a roll, representing Hong Kong in international competitions, including winning the 21st Asian Cities Taekwondo Championships late last year.
But she doesn’t want to stop there: “I am willing to defer a year of university studies to pursue taekwondo full-time; I won’t always have this chance, so I am going to give it my best shot.
“Of course, if I got the chance to compete in the Olympics that would be amazing, but I also want to become the first person from Hong Kong to win a world championship. That is my dream.”
Also on her agenda is promoting her sport in Hong Kong, and teaching it to underprivileged youngsters for free. “It’s such a beautiful sport that has helped me in so many ways, and I want more people in Hong Kong to try it.”
Her advice for other taekwondo athletes in Hong Kong is to “stay humble”. “Although it is beautiful, taekwondo is a gruelling sport in which you can get a lot of injuries if you aren’t careful, so you have to train hard, but also train safely,” she said. “The other thing is don’t get too proud of yourself, because the second you start to think you’re too good or better than everyone else, and stop listening to your coaches, that is when you will start to fall.”