Balancing the academic rigors at Centre College with a busy extracurricular life isn’t easy for any student. But the very challenging training and competition schedule of Kendall Yount ’20, winner of the 2017 American Taekwondo Association (ATA) Spring Nationals in February, takes a level of dedication that is world class. The win makes Yount the top-seeded competitor in the 4th-5th degree black belt division going into the World Championships in June in Little Rock, Ark. [Update: Yount wins the Taekwondo World Champion title.]
And more recently, the martial arts champion won gold in the welterweight division at the 2017 National Collegiate Championships held at University of California, San Diego on April 1-2, which means she’ll compete in the World University Games in Taipei, Taiwan in August. These games are Olympic in scope and host the best college athletes from around the world in every summer Olympic sport.
“I’m so excited and honored to represent Centre College,” Yount says. “The support that I have gotten from Centre has been great.”
Yount competes in either the 4th-5th degree black belt division, or the welterweight (under 67kg) division, depending on the tournament: belt rank for ATA competitions or weight rank for USA Taekwondo meets.
“Olympic Taekwondo (TKD) is a full contact fighting sport and integrates aspects of competition just like any other sport,” Yount explains. “In the United States, Taekwondo is really not known well, and many people think it’s like Kung-Fu in the movies, Jackie Chan, or that we go onto a mat to do a form.
“Basically, there are two fighters who gain points based on what kicks or punches score on our electronic gear system,” she continues. “The fighter with more points at the end of three, two-minute rounds (with 30-second coach breaks) wins the match and then will fight more matches according to a bracket system in that weight class (or belt rank in ATA).”
Yount also is in the inaugural class of ten Lincoln Scholars, Centre’s newest premier scholarship for students with the capacity and deep desire to change the world. The full-ride-plus scholarship includes three summer enrichment experiences. Four scholars will be spending five weeks this summer in Guatemala to volunteer at a non-profit educational organization called Safe Passage; two are doing National Outdoor Leadership School courses, one in Alaska and one in the Yukon; and four, including Yount, will be in Costa Rica, where Yount will do volunteer work with the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children by day and train for the World Championships with the Costa Rican national team by night.
Yount’s summer will be a hectic combination of work, training and competition, but the dean’s list student has learned early in her academic career the art of balance.
“Balancing academics and athletics is challenging when you compete at such a high level,” Yount says. “Time management and discipline are both key. When I’m at tournaments, I bring my homework on the plane with me, and when I’m at school I have to just block-out a portion of my day, every day, for practice. It is rigorous, and at times overwhelming, but so, so worth it.”
She trains about 20 hours a week, generally two to three hours a day on weekdays and three to four hours daily on weekends. And virtually no world-class athlete can reach the summit of their sport without the help and support of their parents.
“I first got involved in TKD when I was four years old after I told my parents that I hated doing ballet (which is what I was doing at the time),” Yount says. “My dad, Lee Yount, got me involved in martial arts and has been my coach and trainer ever since.
“My dad started martial arts when he was young as well,” Yount continues. “As I started becoming competitive in TKD, he became certified and is now a level-2 coach. He comes to almost all of my tournaments with me, we study my fights together, and he has had a lot of experience with training and coaching me.”
Yount explains that her father has now moved to Danville and trains her in the basement of Sutcliffe Hall, where days are alternated with her personal fitness trainer. Each weekend, she travels either to train with other world-class athletes, attend seminars or compete at tournaments, which provides her time spent in the ring fighting on a weekly basis.
“Also, my mom (Starla) has been a crucial part of my journey,” Yount adds. “Like the saying goes, ‘It takes a village,’ and my mom has certainly always provided that support and encouragement on the home front for me.”
Being at the top of her game and competing at a global level is nothing new for Yount.
“I have been lucky to have won a gold medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic games in Nanjing, China, which has been probably my highest athletic achievement,” she says. “I am an Olympic hopeful for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, and I will know more about my Olympic journey when I attend the Olympic Trials in 2019. However, school will always come first for me.”
Yount’s reasons for pursuing national level Taekwondo competition also goes a long way toward explaining her academic success at Centre, despite such an arduous schedule.
“Competitive TKD is so special because it combines the grit, courage and strength of fighting along with the integrity, discipline and respect of martial arts.”
by Cindy Long
April 6, 2017