Taekwondo World Champion, Ellen Ince, sat down in her white Taekwondo uniform and crisp, green Irish squad jacket, following an exhausting training session. She yawned and opened up a Leaving Cert textbook – the first to be tackled, from a mountain stacked on the table.
“I’m a two time European Champion and two time World Champion,” Ellen said as we finally begin talking, while she tried to work out a mathematics problem. “It’s kind of like, each time I win, I want to win again and win more. It’s like an addiction.”
Ellen recalled her first encounter with the self defence sport. Her parents sat her down in her sitting room and suggested this new, unconventional hobby.
She didn’t know what to expect from a contact sport at the young age of nine. Her parents had always encouraged herself and three siblings to see tasks through, so she agreed.
Ellen joined Killester Taekwondo Club. Founded in February 2001, the club’s coach, Mr. Niall Jones, has raised 12 students to acquire a position on the Irish team.
Through the years she followed the successes of her fellow club members and she spent long nights watching them compete on live steams.
“It inspires you. When you know them it’s so much easier to expect that of yourself,” Ellen said, reflecting on her early years.
Fast forward to today, Ellen has moved to Rivervally Taekwondo Club and the now World Champion’s dreams have become a reality.
However, the rise of Ellen has come to a halt in the past few weeks, following her return from the European Championship in Scotland. She has had to trade in her evenings that once consisted of sweat, pain and dedication, all leading towards another successful collection of gold medals at an international Championship, for academic success.
She has little to look forward to in the evenings now, merely preparation for her upcoming Leaving Cert.
The glow of happiness from recalling her successes slowly departed from Ellen’s face as she spoke of the lack of Government support for athletes that are studying for exams. She shifted in her seat.
“When you sit your Leaving Cert they have no idea of the amount of time and effort you have to put into your sport,” she said.
Leading up to International Championships, Ellen spent five or six evenings a week training. An hour round trip, topped with two hour sessions, and the guts of her evenings were gone.
Ellen had to give up competing internationally this year because, “the training involved is just too much in the months leading up to those competitions.”
There are major implications for students that give up their place on the Irish team. Once a student steps out of the team, “there’s such a high standard of talent in Ireland that people come in straight away and take your place.”
Ellen’s mother, Rhonda, took a step away from the steaming pots, in which she was cooking the Ince’s dinner, eager to add her two pence.
A mother’s perspective came into play. Most of the training leading up the the recent European Championships in Scotland was done over the summer months.
The minute summer was over and the schooldays rolled back in, Rhonda saw her undefeatable daughter getting tired as the pressure and workload of sixth year began.
It was, “the first time Ellen was not able to hand up schoolwork when asked,” Rhonda said, a worrying tone falling into her voice.
Ellen’s brother Cian, also on the Irish team, will be sitting his Leaving Cert in a few years. There’s a constant worry in the back of the minds of each family member that the sport, the Ince’s passion, goes unfairly recognised.
Ellen was full of suggestions about how the problem could be solved. The State should, “allow athletes to receive a few points for their Leaving Cert because of their sporting commitments”.
Taekwondo receives a severe lack of media attention in Ireland. The team’s success stories are offered to the newspapers, but they are never taken up. Taekwondo receives no funding from the Irish Government, when, “we have a natural spark for fighting”.
Rhonda and Ellen concluded that it’s disappointing that Taekwondo doesn’t get sufficient media attention.
“I’d love to be able to show people what we do and how good we are at the sport,” Ellen sat up straight in her chair, “maybe then the Government will take notice and take action.”
Ellen continues to look beyond the roadblocks this year has put in front of her, “I’m hoping to study law with a language in Trinity College next year. I definitely want to set up my own club in the future. It’s something I really want to do, teaching and helping the younger kids.”
She paused. “The discipline, a fundamental part of Taekwondo, has taught me that if you put your mind to something, anything, you can achieve it.”