A rising Tae Kwon Do star leaves her Monterey dojo to shine at the National Junior Olympics.
Thursday, July 5, 2001
Crouching Tomboy, Hidden Dancer: Besides studying Tae Kwon Do once a week with Grand Master Joong Kook Nam, Jamie Asunsolo takes jazz, tap and ballet.Eleven-year-old Jamie Asunsolo looks like she''d be more apt to wear slippers and a leotard-her Carmel Ballet Company getup-than the white Gi, green belt and bare feet she''s currently sporting. Her tawny brown hair is pulled back in a messy bun, but two wavy strands fall into her freckled face. She fidgets with her belt, pulling at her white top and rolling up on her toes and back on her heels.
That''s before she starts sparring.
Jamie moves into the center of the red training map, opposite Monterey Tae Kwon Do Academy''s Grand Master Joong Kook Nam. After bowing to her opponent, Jamie''s hazel eyes turn to steel and kicks fly faster than a hummingbird near sugar water. Three sidekicks and she''s crossed the red mat. A couple roundhouse kicks fly over Grand Master Nam''s head. One swift back kick to her instructor''s forearm, and the demonstration for this reporter is over.
"Do you want to try?" asks Grand Master Nam, an eighth-degree black belt and former Tae Kwon Do instructor to the South Korean Army.
"Her kick is very powerful," he says rubbing his bruised forearm.
Asunsolo''s sparring opponents from the recent 2001 California Junior Olympics would likely testify to this. Asunsolo sparred against four other female green belts in her age (11) and weight (92-102 pounds) category, ultimately taking home two silver medals, one in sparring competition and the other in form. Two days following our interview, she''ll head to Tampa to compete in the 2001 National Junior Olympics July 1-7.
"I told her, if you medal and qualify, then we will take you to the Junior Olympics," says proud papa Rudy Asunsolo. "But never in my wildest dreams did I think we would actually make it this far."
So how does the soon-to-be Olympian feel? Asunsolo says the butterflies have already come to roost.
"I''m kinda scared," she admits. "But it''s really fun. When you are sparring against someone, it''s like a game of chess. You try to figure out where your opponent is going to move next." She says she''s also excited to see Florida for the first time and visit Disney World.
In Tampa, the sparring events are single elimination, pitting Jamie against eight to 10 other girls as she climbs the ladder of 11-year-old, 102-pound green belts. She''s also likely to face off against the Southern California green belt to whom she lost the gold at the state Junior Olympics.
While most Tae Kwon Do competitors train four or five times a week, Jamie trains once, sometimes twice a week. The Asunsolo family lives in Pine Canyon near King City. Daughters Jamie, 9-year-old Lisa and 7-year-old Aaron are home-schooled by mom Paula, who serves as teacher, chauffeur, cheerleader and sometimes punching bag for the girls.
When Jamie''s not sparring, either at the Monterey Tae Kwon Do Academy or at home with mom and dad, she also takes ballet, jazz and tap lessons.
"She covers the entire spectrum of the gracefulness that is required of a ballerina to the power and strength that is necessary to compete in Tae Kwon Do," says Rudy Asunsolo.
Jamie started training when she was eight, and was the only girl enrolled at the Prunedale Tae Kwon Do Academy. Rudy and Paula didn''t want Jamie to be the only girl in the class, so they enrolled then-6-year-old little sis Lisa. At the Prunedale Academy, Jamie learned to spar against boys who were older and bigger than her-an invaluable lesson for the soft-spoken girl.
"Boys are much harder, but I can still beat them," she allows.
A year later, Jamie and her family moved to South County but couldn''t find a suitable dojo where the girls could train. Jamie saw an article about Nam and his academy in Monterey, and the family drove nearly two hours to meet the Grand Master himself. Nam saw a plethora of potential in Jamie, Lisa and Aaron, and the rest, as they say, is history.
"Her form is strong and her mind is strong," says Nam, who coached 1988 Tae Kwon Do Olympic Gold medalist Dana Heed. "[Jamie] is stronger than other students at the same level, and usually she spars with me. Her determination is quite good. When I see her sparring, she looks like this." He draws back his fists, clenches his mouth and hardens his eyes.
At the urging of Nam, Jamie, who only began competing six months ago, entered the 32nd Annual UC-Berkeley Tae Kwon Do Competition in March. She won the gold in the sparring competition for 11 and 12-year-olds with green and blue belts.
Following the Junior Olympics, Jamie plans to start training for the 2004 Olympic Games. She says she will test for and earn her black belt in a year and a half, with time to spare before competing for the chance to represent the U.S. in Greece.
She lists actor/comedian Jim Carrey, track star Marion Jones and "for the record, both my parents" among her role models, and says she wants to be an actor when she grows up-"After I win a gold at the Olympics."