For many athletes, the notion of representing one’s country someday is unfathomable, but for senior Elaine Hsu, it has been a reality for the past three years. Since 2019, Hsu has represented both Team USA and the state of California at the Taekwondo Nationals and countless other competitions, with over two dozen nationally recognized trophies under her belt and a ranking among the top 300 taekwondoists in the country.
Surprisingly, despite her immense success, the beginning of Hsu’s taekwondo journey was not one marked by happiness.
“I got into taekwondo through my brother and my mom,” Hsu said via email. “My mom threw me into it, since at the time, I was going through severe bullying at school, and she hoped that with taekwondo, I would be able to rebuild my confidence and become happier.”
Starting at age 10, Hsu began training at All Star Taekwondo with her brother, where she stayed at for another eight years, developing her skills before moving on to competitive teams. From 2015-2018, Hsu competed in various California and Nevada state championships, earning numerous gold and silver medals for both individual and team performances.
“Even though I’ve done it so many times, being on the mats and seeing your competitors is quite nerve racking but it gets you in the competitive mode,” Hsu said. “I always shake super bad but once I start, it all fades away.”
Hsu’s breakthrough would come in the following year, however. In qualifying for the US Open and Team Trials, Hsu’s dominance at the 2019 Pan Am Championships launched her into national rankings, where the competition pool and skill level were greatly magnified in comparison to the tournaments she had previously attended.
“My coach at the time arranged a trio for me to compete in at the 2019 Team Trials, but being a beginner, I honestly had little hope,” Hsu said. “After putting up a tough fight and going through a tiebreaker, our team took down first place and became members of the 2019 Pan Am Championships National Team.”
During the 2019 Pan-A Championships, Hsu passed through every stage of the qualification process, including several rounds of finals, showing just how much Hsu’s training has paid off.
“As we entered the ring, I felt proud to represent the three letters USA on my back,” Hsu said. “ Bringing home the gold medal with my teammates was the best thing that I could’ve ever given my dad as the competition was on Father’s Day.”
Although COVID had halted competitions for the earlier portion of this year, Hsu recently participated in the Grand Prix West, Grand Phoenix Open and 2021 USA Nationals, bringing home three silvers and a bronze.
Hsu now trains at Eagles Taekwondo—a studio located in Fullerton—where she trains an average of six hours a week during off-season, and 10-15 during competition season.
“Managing school whilst competing and training is quite hectic,” Hsu said. “Over the years, I’ve learned to finish homework as soon as I get home and study as much as I can before I leave.”
As for college, Hsu hopes that the school she attends will have a taekwondo team. In the meantime, she is focused on her upcoming competitions, training with mentors and taking inspiration from older teammates and her father.
“Taekwondo has taught me not only basic self defense skills, but also respect, courtesy, and self discipline,” Hsu said.