Kaley McLean

Overcoming Challenges in Pursuit of a Black Belt

My name is Kaley McLean. I am a very competitive person by nature and enjoy participating in physical activity. Currently, I am involved in recreational swimming, downhill skiing and pilates.

Being active makes me feel good. It energizes me for daily living, and provides me with strength that increases my endurance. I want to share with you my experience of learning the martial art of Tae Kwon Do.

I started to do Tae Kwon Do because it was an activity I could participate in with my two brothers who are able-bodied. Our parents saw it as an activity the three of us could share.

The drills we practiced in each class allowed us to burn excess energy especially in the case of my youngest brother, while teaching us new skills and building self esteem. In spite of using a wheelchair as my main aid in moving about, I was determined to stand and execute the forms and movements as my brothers did. I accomplished this goal when I tested for my yellow stripe.

Shortly after achieving that milestone, I had to undergo surgery on both legs. Instead of pulling me out of the program, my parents and I discovered that a series of forms were being developed for people who used mobility aids. This enabled me to learn the new skills in my chair.

Since Tae Kwon Do is a type of self defense, I was determined to pursue the highest level available to me because I knew I would be spending most of my time travelling in my wheelchair. I thought it best to learn how to defend myself from a sitting position. Over the next eight years, I climbed the ranks edging towards my black belt. In doing so I faced numerous challenges. Many of these challenges came about as a direct result of the Tae Kwon Do club Master’s lack of knowledge about individuals with disabilities.

This is just one of the barriers that people with disabilities must face. Others include the lack of accessibility in many buildings, and the costs of activities and transportation faced by individuals on fixed incomes. Although I have encountered each of these issues at times while participating in Tae Kwon Do, the assistance and understanding of the coaches, facility staff and other participants eventually enabled me to accomplish my long term goal of attaining my 1st degree black belt.