Standing on the mat during a taekwondo competition brings out an intensity in Siân Cummings that she finds hard to describe.
It's an intensity she says brings out a side in her she rarely sees — a side she's incredibly proud of.
“It brings out an intensity in me that I don't really have in anything else because I'm quite a shy person,” Cummings said.
“It brings out something that I like seeing and it doesn't come out very often. It's a confidence and being able to pursue something and knowing that you're not going to quit and you're going to work as hard as you can to achieve a goal.”
In recent years, the 14-year-old Fernwood resident has turned the sport of taekwondo into an all consuming passion.
Her mother originally enrolled her in the sport so she could learn self defence. Over the last two years she will have earned her black belt and has turned her sights on the competitive world of taekwondo, training with coach Dany Mantecon at Cascadia Martial Arts in James Bay for the past year.
Now, the young athlete is getting set to compete in her first international competition — the 2017 U.S. Open Taekwondo Championships in Las Vegas this month.
Cummings will be competing in the junior (age 15 to 17) category against a number of other athletes from around the world.
Cummings isn't going to the competition alone. Victoria's Iseabel Jones will also be competing in Nevada as well.
While the 21-year-old recently moved to the city a few years ago from Calgary to study physical education at the University of Victoria, she's been practicing taekwondo since she was 12 years old, and was ushered by her former master into competitions when she was 14.
“I like the physicality of it, I really like the confidence that it's brought me. It's really developed some of my other interpersonal skills,” Jones said, adding another big draw was the opportunity for her to teach younger students. “I really enjoy all aspects of it. I like the discipline.”
In preparation for the popular tournament, Cummings and Jones have been training five to six days a week (including Christmas Eve), and have participated in a number of training camps up Island and on the Lower Mainland.
Just a week away from the competition, the duo is excited to travel to Las Vegas and take in the experience, but are also nervous to take on new competitors on a larger stage.
“I'm nervous. It's probably one of my biggest things is getting over my nerves and trying to manage my anxiety to make it productive,” said Jones, who competed in the U.S. Open when she was 15 years old and earned bronze as a junior. During the upcoming competition, Jones will be competing in the heavy senior female category, which is above 70 kilos.
Both athletes are using the competition as practice for provincials in February and nationals in March, with the end goal of competing in the Olympics one day.
Coach Mantecon said Cummings and Jones are two of his most dedicated athletes.
“Siân is probably the most hard-working athlete that I have. For her to be so determined at that age and that early in her (training), it's impressive. She's a very dedicated athlete,” Mantecon said.
“Iseabel is very determined, when she wants something she'll do it. She has the experience, which is a very good strength for her.”
The 2017 U.S. Open Taekwondo Championships take place Jan. 30 to Feb. 3 at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino. Other athletes also heading to the U.S. Open are Oak Bay's Jacob Isaac and Darian Baker from Gordon Head.