BACK in September I interviewed Flint’s ‘Golden Girl’ Jade Jones at her triumphant Olympic Games homecoming, writes Rory Sheehan.
Her journey to becoming a double Olympic gold winning medallist 15 years after first attending a taekwondo taster session is an often-told story, which has inspired thousands to take up the sport.
Currently preparing to take part in ITV show The Jump, where celebrities try out a variety of winter sports, Jade is leaving her comfort zone – so I decided it was a good time to step out of mine.
Leader reporter Rory Sheehan gets kicking under the watchful eye of Ady Jones
Which is how I came to be sat on a gym mat in the middle of Wrexham Industrial Estate early one Tuesday evening.
The setting might seem a million miles away from the winners podium in Rio, but every future champion starts somewhere.
I was attending a beginners session at the Ady Jones Taekwondo Family Martial Arts Centre, based at a new, well-appointed facility on Abbey Road.
The academy is run by Ady, a 6th degree black-belt and multiple taekwondo world champion from Wrexham, and his wife Sarah.
More than a decade ago Ady used to run taekwondo classes in Ruabon on a Friday night – which were attended by a young Jade Jones so she could work on her sparring.
Sarah said Jade’s success has seen a boom in the number of people taking part in the sport locally and nationally, and Ady also has satellite classes running in Rhos, Gresford, Rossett and Ruabon.
She said: “We’ve got about 400 students, with classes ranging from the three to five-year-old’s, the junior, beginners and more advanced up to black-belt.
“We’ve been here for two years now and it was opened by Jade.
“She came back last September after the Olympics to do a couple of training sessions with the students
“The great thing is families can take part together and I’d say about 40 per cent are parents and children. We are very much family-orientated.
“If they don’t feel like taking part, parents can also go upstairs, have a cup of tea and watch from the window. It’s high profile now and the fastest growing martial art in the UK.
“Everyone starts with a white-belt and it takes four years to get to black-belt. A lot of our students who started at five years old are becoming black-belts at eight or nine.”
The students I was taking part with were a mixture of children, teenagers and adults. At the age of 30, I didn’t feel too out of place.
Taekwondo, a martial art which originated in Korea in the 1940s and 1950s, is known for its spectacular head-kicks, but for us beginners Ady started off with a vigorous warm-up which included a variety of simple jumps and stretches.
After 15 minutes we took a quick break then paired up to practice some non-contact basic kicking and punching techniques.
For someone whose exercise could best be described as ‘semi-regular’ – limited to the occasional game of five-a-side football – I was surprised how well I managed to keep pace.
I kept my balance, but struggled with some of the co-ordination required, trying to follow Ady’s examples but putting the wrong leg forward when attempting a kick.
With a bit of correction from Ady I soon put this right, and began to master the turn-kick, also known as a roundhouse kick, throwing the front left forward while turning with the ball of the foot.
By the time the pads came out and we finished with some light sparring, an hour had flown by.
Afterwards Ady told me a lot of people are often surprised at how quickly they take to the sport.
“We’ve started off with a warm-up, some stretches and loosening games,” he said.
“I’ve taken you through some basic commands and free sparring, moves like the turn-punch which can win you a lot of points when competing, followed by a cool-down.
“Everyone was a white-belt once. The hardest step for new beginners is to actually take a step inside the place, but once they do they really enjoy it and get involved with the competitions.
“It’s good for loosening your muscles, aiding your flexibility and mobility.
“You build up friendships and it helps with confidence – you wouldn’t believe it now, but Jade was quite shy when she started out.”
I certainly enjoyed my first taste of taekwondo and may look at taking it up – even if I won’t get anywhere near the medal podium at Tokyo 2020.