Samantha Shock, a GiGi’s participant since the Playhouse opened, has become the first student with Down Syndrome to earn a black belt in the 31 years that Kick Connection, where she takes instruction, has been open! On top of that, Samantha is the first person with Down Syndrome to earn a black belt on the East coast!
Samantha started taking Tae Kwon Do classes at Kick Connection in Pasadena almost six years ago after watching her brother, James, begin lessons there. One of the teachers, Master Carlos, encouraged Samantha to start attending the beginner classes after coming to almost all her brother’s classes for six months. When she first started, Samantha was persistent and ready for any of the new challenges. She made steady progress throughout the years, never backing down from a fight.
Samantha’s mom Cindy says, “She refused to quit – on a couple of the belt tests where there was board breaking involved, it would take her multiple tries to do the break. But she just reset her stance and tried again until eventually she landed the kick or hand strike hard enough that the board broke. Samantha became stronger and more confident as she moved up to each belt. Tae Kwon Do even helped with her communication skills as she began to teach some moves to her friends.”
Samantha was going to test for the famous black belt, but suddenly everything changed as businesses shutdown for the pandemic. Samantha’s dream of earning her black belt was slipping away. Kick Connection opted for virtual learning once lockdown began. But Tae Kwon Do online was difficult, unlike GiGi’s At Home classes, which provided Samantha consistency and structure because they were able to plan out what classes she could take each day. She enjoyed GiGi’s Kitchen Teen, Dance and Yoga. However, Tae Kwon Do online classes were a struggle because Samantha could not socialize with her friends before and after class.
Eventually, Kick Connection reopened in June, holding classes outside in the parking lot. Samantha was eager and ready to prepare for her black belt test. After a grueling four-hour test consisting of sparring, self-defense, performance of patterns, breaking boards, memory work, and reading her essay explaining what earning black belt means to her, Samantha was awarded her well-deserved belt in August.
It’s really amazing. After having been at home from March until June and then outside classes, and then only having about 6 weeks to make sure she was truly ready to take the test, it was time. Knowing too that she was expected to do it, and it wasn’t just being handed to her really made us feel great about the school we had chosen. Master Carlos and his whole family have been the best mentors, instructors, and supporters Samantha could have had,” says Cindy.
Tae Kwon Do has taught Samantha more than just martial arts. It has given her new friends, confidence, strength, and bravery. Her dedication and love of the sport exemplifies how wise she is beyond her 13 years! Samantha wrote in her essay, “In the beginning it was hard, and I did not think I could do it. Some people did not think I could do it either. They thought I would not be able to remember the patterns. But I proved them wrong. I went to class, I tried hard, I practiced at home and I did not give up.”
For me, earning Black Belt makes me feel like all the other students who are testing with me. I can do anything I work hard for, even if it takes me a little longer than most. I am strong, I am smart, and I can do anything I put effort into. In her speech Samantha shared, “I have learned many things from taekwondo: patterns, kicks and self-defense but the most important thing I’ve learned is that Down Syndrome will not stop me from having integrity, perseverance, self-control and an indomitable spirit!” Samantha repeats part of the creed that participants repeat during class that includes the 5 tenants of Taekwondo!
Congratulations Samantha! Breaking through boards, boundaries, and expectations!
Written by: Camille Manuncia, GiGi’s Communications Intern
Edited by: Doni Dondero