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Nearly impossible, nearly achieved

HEATHER FAULAND/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Psychology junior Jessica Cox practices for today's tae kwon do competition with onlooker Diana Perry, a chemical engineering sophomore. Cox will be competing tonight for her black belt, and could become the first student without arms to attain that rank.
By Alexandria Blute
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, December 4, 2003
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Two handicapped students pursue tae kwan do black belts tonight

When Jessica Cox goes for a black belt in tae kwon do tonight, she will have to stand on her left foot and swing a pair of numchucks while holding them between two toes on her right foot.

Cox, who was born without arms, is a member of the American Taekwondo Club at the UA, and tonight she will take part in a rank promotion ceremony at the Student Recreation Center along with other club members.

Julia Ayala, who suffers from a debilitating condition that left her unable to walk for most of her childhood, will also be participating in the rank promotion ceremony tonight.

The women will be asked to perform a number of exercises emphasizing skills like attack moves, using weapons, sparring and self-defense techniques.

A panel of judges will then decide whether they have earned the title of a black belt.

For both women, the evening represents much more than just a chance at a promotion.

Cox, a psychology junior, will be the first club member to demonstrate her skills using only her legs and feet, said Sarah Perry, head instructor of the club.

"Ms. Cox's promotion to black belt will be a unique event in the ATA. She will be the first student to reach the rank of first degree black belt who was born 'amelia', or entirely without arms," said Perry, a 2002 tae kwon do world champion in sparring.

"Having Ms. Cox at the UA club gave an exciting challenge to the instructors who were forced to create an entire color belt curriculum, in the spirit of the original curriculum, for a student to perform entirely with her legs and feet," she said.

WILL SEBERGER/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Psychology and economics sophomore Duane Skites, left, attacks material science graduate student Anand D'Suany last night in a tae kwon do sparring match. The two will compete tonight for a higher belt degree.

Cox, who has been practicing martial arts since age 10 and already has a black belt in a different form of tae kwon do, said she is grateful for Perry's efforts to create moves especially for her.

"Sarah Perry came up with a completely different form of martial arts," Cox said. "It's definitely a challenge."

Ayala, a senior majoring in Spanish and education, who was misdiagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child and was wheelchair-bound until age 12, said that tae kwon do has served as a means of regaining physical strength and forging friendships that will last a lifetime.

"I had such a stationary childhood that I needed an activity that would help me regain my balance and help me regain my strength," she said.

Ayala, who gave birth to her first child 11 months ago, said that tae kwon do has also served as a motivating force in her busy life.

"It's something that's mentally and physically challenging," she said. "You learn a lot about yourself."

Tonight's ceremony will test students on one or more of the three branches of tae kwon do, including forms, sparring and weapons, all of which showcase different taekwondo skills, Perry said.

Perry, a second year masters student in chemical engineering, attributes the success of students like Ayala and Cox to the ATA's emphasis on personal success and individual strengths.

"The major difference with American tae kwon do is that it's really about personal improvement," Perry said. She said that among the approximately 40 students in the club, there are people of all skill levels and ethnic backgrounds.

Master Instructor William Babin, the highest-ranking ATA official in Arizona, who is also a former UA student and club alumnus, said that he is impressed with the longevity of the club.

The club was started by student Rex Veder in 1975.

"It's interesting for this little university club to still be in existence after 25 years," he said.

Babin said that the social experience and discipline gained by those who participate in tae kwon do is unlike that of any other sport.

"It's very, very satisfying," he said.

Because classes are held on campus, attending practice is convenient for students. Moreover, he said, participation in the sport is a great, affordable way to relieve stress.

Compared to programs at other schools, at which martial arts classes can cost nearly $100 per month, UA tae kwon do is relatively inexpensive at approximately $50 per semester, Ayala said.

As for the competition tonight, Ayala said that she can't wait.

"I'm really excited," she said. "This is really big for me."

The rank promotion ceremony will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Aerobics Room B at the Student Recreation Center.

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