NZ special needs taekwondo shines on the world stage

President of the International Taekwondo Federation Grand Master Choi Jung Hwa told the group he would like to come to NZ (Facebook)
President of the International Taekwondo Federation Grand Master Choi Jung Hwa told the group he would like to come to NZ (Facebook)

The Kiwi special needs taekwondo team has taken on the world in an historic championship, taking home a total of nine medals.

The group from Hawke's Bay brought back three gold, three silver and three bronze medals at the Taekwondo Federation World Championships in Brighton, England.

Team coach and manager Ben Evans says the event was life-changing for the team.

"All the special needs, they always get put down in society," he says. "They never get quite seen as equals. But when they get in their taekwondo training hall, they are seen as equals.

"That's a big thing. For two hours, these guys have actually got the same status and rank and ability as mainstream people in public. That's huge for these guys."

He says the group received a lot of support from the international federation, and New Zealand is leading the way in growing the sport.

"We're getting a lot of countries making contact and saying they want to get involved. I made a lot of contacts in Brighton.

"Places like Germany, like Greece - USA is going to bring even more competitors next time. It's actually a success, this whole thing New Zealand has been doing."

The event has helped open doors for the martial arts champs. The upcoming 2018 championship in Argentina is expected to be a decider for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, which will feature taekwondo for the first time.

But the special needs team wasn't the only group making waves at the world championships, with 11-year-old Rahere Heke of Flaxmere taking home a gold medal for sparring - the youngest by far on the New Zealand team.

Rahera has been training for five years and is just one step away from her black belt.

Mr Evans also won a silver medal for power breaking.

President of the International Taekwondo Federation Grand Master Choi Jung Hwa told the group he would like to come to New Zealand and thanked them for all the work they have done for the sport.

"This shows that everything is possible. Everybody is special.

"We love you so very, very much, and we hope you continue to be good ambassadors of taekwondo to the world and also our friends out there.

"I hope to see more of this. I would like to go to New Zealand and give a seminar for yourselves if you want. Keep up the good work."

Team member Johann Landkroon, who has Down Syndrome, has become a bit of an online celebrity with taekwondo fans around the world, following his journey from beginner to black belt.

He travelled to Korea in 2011 to demonstrate his abilities.

Newshub.

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