Tae Kwon Do Mom

I watched my son at practice and thought, Hey, maybe I can do that too.

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- Posted on Oct 21, 2014

Bridgette Mitcheff at the Tae Kwon Do studio with Alec and Zachariah

The mirror was at the top of the stairs.

Wall-sized, impossible to avoid. I stood before it in a white tunic belted with a sash. Children dashed everywhere, followed by their moms. The women gave me a look—one I'd endured all my life.

Who are you trying to kid? it said. I stared in the mirror. Staring back was a 280-pound lady dressed in a Tae Kwon Do uniform.

For months I'd watched my sons, Alec and Zachariah, take classes in Tae Kwon Do, a Korean martial arts sport whose stylized movements remind me of an elaborate dance. I looked ridiculous. I should turn around and leave.

But something stopped me. The strongest, most desperate feeling I've ever had. It's now or never, I thought. You can forget what others think and do this for yourself, or be miserable the rest of your life. I stood at the top of the stairs and prayed for strength to walk past the mirror and join the class.

All my life I've loved dance. At Alec's age, I'd be glued to the TV during Dance Fever or the Olympics ice-dancing competition. I'd make sure no one was looking, then put on a record and twirl around my living room, imagining I was a princess dancing with a prince.

But I knew I wasn't. My weight ruled my life. One day my mom drove me to an ice-skating party at the local rink. We pulled up to the entrance. Mom handed me my skates. I wouldn't get out of the car.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"I don't feel like going," I said. I couldn't tell her: I was too embarrassed to join the party. I didn't look like the other girls. I was so much bigger than everyone else.

Anyone who tells you there's no such thing as an addiction to food is wrong. Put a gallon of ice cream in front of me and it was as good as gone. I tried this diet, that diet. I just couldn't stop eating. Not even falling in love helped.

I thanked the Lord the day I met Kevin. We got married when I was 20. I'll lose weight for him, I thought.

I tried. I really did. But I gained 50 pounds our first year of marriage. After giving birth to Isabella, our third child, I got on a scale—280, it read. I was 30. I told Kevin I wanted stomach surgery. "It's my last hope." It was a big step for us. Insurance wouldn't cover it, and we didn't have a lot of money.

It didn't work. The operation shrank my stomach, making digestion of solid foods difficult. Trouble was, I was still obsessed with eating. Soft food, I discovered, went down easily. I binged on ice cream.

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A year after the surgery I climbed on my bathroom scale: 270 pounds. I did something I seldom did—I stood in front of a mirror. "Lord, look at me!" I cried.

A few months later Zachariah walked into the kitchen and asked if he could take lessons in Tae Kwon Do with Alec. I was at the table, gorging on ice cream and hating myself for it. "Sure," I said. His first class rolled around. Like several of the other mothers, I stayed to watch.

The grandmaster moved with the strength and fluidity of a dancer. I was taken by his precise form, his graceful movements, his joy. Both boys came away from the class sweating, and beaming. "Mom, it just made me feel so good," Zachariah said. I yearned for that same kind of feeling.

I watched tons of their classes. As they moved up in levels, I saw them grow more assured. One day the grandmaster called Alec to the center of the floor and held a length of inch-thick pine board between his hands, stomach high. "Kick this in two," he said.

Alec gathered himself and shot his right foot outward and upward. The board snapped like kindling. Alec beamed with pride. What I'd give for half his self-confidence, I thought.

That night it struck me: I could take Tae Kwon Do. The thought flickered then went out. Who was I kidding? Still, I couldn't get that wish for pure, physical joy out of my head.

For years I'd punished myself over my body. What if I focus on what my body can do, instead of what it can't? I signed up for an adult beginners class the next day.

And now, here I was, ready to go, staring at myself in the mirror. Walking into that class—past a gauntlet of gawking kids and their moms—was one of the hardest things I've done. Just like the ice rink.

I couldn't blame them. Two hundred and seventy pounds packed into a white smock is not a pretty sight. I approached the instructor. "Welcome," he said. "We're all beginners here."

The first few sessions, I couldn't do much. While others did jumping jacks, I rotated my arms and stepped forward and back. The first time I tried a push-up, I fell on my face. Alec was watching. I figured he'd be embarrassed. Instead he said, "Hang in there, Mom. You'll get it."

Some nights I came home exhausted, disappointed in all I couldn't do, and asked God for faith. Slowly, my body responded. I did a push-up. Then another. I graduated from white belt to yellow to orange.

Then came the day I tested for my green belt. The grandmaster signaled me to come to the center of the room. He held an inch-thick length of pine, the same type he'd tested Alec with, and said, "Kick it in two." I thrust my right foot up and out. Nothing. Just another failure.

Then I heard Alec and Zachariah. I looked up. "You can do it," Alec said. All around me I heard shouts of encouragement. I turned to the grandmaster. "Let me try again," I said. I stood on the floor, assumed my kick position and focused.

You can do this. God wanted me to, otherwise why had he brought me this far? I kicked up and out. Snap! The board splintered in two. In that moment, I felt all the power and grace of a dancer.

It took two more years, but I earned my black belt. That night our family went out to celebrate. "You should wear your black belt," Alec said. I'd never felt so proud.

I've lost 50 pounds since starting Tae Kwan Do, but that's not what makes me happiest. It's knowing I could reach for an impossible goal, work for it with all my strength and achieve it. Now I think there's no telling what I can do.

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Bridgette Metcheff says that the perseverance she learned in Tae Kwon Do helps her set and accomplish goals. She now attends college and is majoring in elementary education with a minor in writing and foreign languages. "Earning my black belt gave me the courage to pursue being a writer. Two of my pieces were picked for our college magazine!" she says.

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