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Smeall takes steps toward international podium

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Jessica Smeall (right) and her coach, Master Bill McLaughlin, of Folding Mountain Taekwondo represented at the Canada Open.

Masha Scheele

Jessica Smeall started off her season by competing in the World Taekwondo (Poomsae) Female Under 40 division at the Canada Open in early October.

In her match, she faced off against a new competitor from Alberta at the event held in Quebec.

Sport Poomsae is the pattern level of taekwondo, where competitors perform designated forms for their age and rank group determined by a tournament official.

“There were eight ladies in my division. I was defeated in the quarter finals by 0.2 in presentation by a friend from Whitecourt, Tara Farnsworth,” said Smeall.

It was Farnsworth’s first appearance in a Poomsae competition at the Canada Open.

“Taekwondo is a fairly small world on the competitive side,” said Smeall. 

“I’ve known her for several years but it’s only been the last few years we’ve gotten to know each other.”

Smeall added that knowing her opponent made for a friendly competition.

“Unfortunately, at an international competition the last thing you want is someone from your own country, nonetheless your same province, and in our case, several 100 kilometers away,” she said.

Sport Poomsae has a real sense of camaraderie, which creates a nice atmosphere at competitions, added Smeall. The format was a head to head single elimination rather than usual individual overall points.

Athletes performed two different patterns per round in the quarter, semi, and final rounds, adding up to six separate patterns to perform in order to win. Despite being out of the competition after the first round, Smeall used what she learned to build on her skills.

“If I’m going to lose by 0.2, it means that I’m in the right stream and I’m doing the right thing and I’m going in the right direction. It’s very reassuring to know that the competition was very close and it was nice to lose to somebody that I know,” she said.

Following that match, Farnsworth won her semi-final match against another Canadian from Ontario, but lost in the finals against Aruba.

“All the competitors were within a very minute difference in scoring. This indicates our hard work is getting us closer to the International podium. It is great there is another competitor in our provincial pool to motivate both Tara and Jessie to improve and represent our province and country,” said Master Bill McLaughlin, Smeall’s coach at Folding Mountain Taekwondo.

Smeall used the feedback from the Canada Open and learned from watching her videos of her match to drive her and keep her going on the same track. 

A good indication of her hard work was when she came face-to-face with Farnsworth again at a local competition a few weeks ago, where Smeall defeated Farnsworth.

“That was all the additional practice going in, it made for a positive change. I know I’m still going in the right direction, it’s just those small changes that can make a big difference,” said Smeall.

Going forward, Smeall will compete at another local tournament in Edmonton this month, then she’s off to Canadian Nationals in January, and she also plans to attend the US Open in February.

“I feel good, being reassured that I’m on the right track was definitely a positive. I’ve got no motivation to stop anytime soon, it’s going to keep driving me,” she said.

In the past she has been to both the US Open and the Pan Am Open in the US, and last year she placed third at the Canada Open.

Smeall first trained in the ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation) style, and later switched to WTF (World Taekwondo Federation). The two styles have different forms and moves, while ITF is more focused on self-defense, WTF is more focused on sparring.

Smeall originally began taekwondo when she was living in Edmonton as a self defense course and it turned into a very integral part of her life, she explained.

“I actually got into it because I was working night shifts at a grocery store and my dad wanted me to have self defense training and so I took taekwondo,” said Smeall.

She began training at a club in Hinton as soon as she moved to the community and has been with Folding Mountain Taekwondo for her entire black belt life. She has now been a black belt for three years and will receive her third-degree belt promotion this year.

For anybody who’s curious about the sport and would like to try it, Smeall said, “Find something you are passionate about and accept the challenges it offers. A challenge, with successes and learning experiences, will provide drive and significance connecting you to an activity.  For me taekwondo is my chosen family that provides mental and physical challenges.”