Teenager Earns Taekwondo Green Belt While Battling Cancer

Collin Van Ooyen / September 14, 2012 - 4:33pm

The essence of martial arts has always been about challenging oneself to achieve new heights. It’s not only an outward expression of physicality, but a method of inward self-reflection; a way to show yourself just what you’re made of.

Monica Sandoval, a 17-year-old taekwondo student from Atlanta, Georgia, is living proof.

Sandoval was shocked with the news that she had been diagnosed with Leukemia. At a time when most people of any age would crack under the pressure of a life or death battle, this cheerful young lady refused to allow her life to be dictated by her ailment. She would actively seek to cheer up her fellow patients around the hospital, even putting on “princess parties” for some of the other young girls. Throughout her treatment process, Sandoval refused to give up her favorite pastime of taekwondo. She continued to train even while juggling treatments.

Doctors performed a successful bone marrow transplant using donor marrow from Sandoval’s younger brother, sending her cancer into remission. However, this past January her cancer unfortunately returned.

Undaunted, she went straight to her taekwondo instructor to request a fast track in her green belt training. Knowing that her strength would soon be on the decline, she wanted to give herself something that would make her feel strong. She achieved that green belt, and now often sports it around the hospital along with her dobok (uniform).

Sandoval is now awaiting a second transplant, but is still finding new ways to assert herself. She is also a gifted artist, and was recently the winner of a plush toy design contest. American insurance company Aflac recently held a contest to design a Christmas version of their iconic duck mascot. Sandoval’s drawing was selected as the winner, and will now be turned into a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float, and a plush toy to be sold through the Christmas holidays. The best part is that all of the proceeds from the Christmas duck dolls will be donated to the Kids With Cancer charity.

Everybody deals with hardships at some point in their lifetime, and when faced with inconvenient truths, it can be easy to allow one’s self to be worn down emotionally. Monica Sandoval however has too much respect for herself to allow that to happen. She’s also got too much respect for those around her than to do anything else but help to be a force for positive change. Those ideals of universal respect and humility are a cornerstone of martial arts, and she is proof positive that becoming a master in the art of fighting is more than just punches and kicks. It can also help you master the fights within.