Chelsea Jenkins of Bowie was introduced to martial arts as a baby and now it's a big part of her life as a teenager.
Her father, Thomas, has been practicing and teaching taekwondo for more than 20 years. He recalls bringing Chelsea as a baby to his former school in Georgia, where she would sit in her bassinet and watch classes.
As a toddler, Chelsea began learning taekwondo but her parents made the decision to put her training on hold when she kicked a classmate in the head at daycare.
In 2007, after the family relocated to Bowie, Chelsea and her brother started practicing taekwondo in the garage. Five years later, she just won her third Olympic Taekwondo national championship.
Chelsea's parents have been very supportive, but they don’t push her.
“The only thing I stress to her is training,” said her father. “If you are going to do this sport you have to train.”
And train she does. These days, 14-year-old Chelsea trains twice a day during the week and for four to six hours on Saturdays. Her home school is Vuongs Martial Arts in Crofton, but she also trains a few times a week at the Black Belt Academy in Beltsville. At Vuongs, she also teaches Olympic Taekwondo to younger students.
Chelsea is also a member of the Peak Performance program run by two-time Olympic medalist and current USA Olympic Taekwondo Coach Juan Moreno. As part of this team, she goes to New Hampshire for additional training two to three times a year.
“Sometimes is seems like we’re all over the place and never home,” said Chelsea’s father.
This rigorous training schedule may sound overwhelming for a teen, but Chelsea said it’s worth it.
“I’d rather go to a bunch of schools a week than stay at one school,” said Chelsea. “The training is hard, but it really does pay off.”
That seems to be the case. In addition to last month's win, Chelsea is also a five-time Maryland state champion and a two-time Daedo Invitational champion.
Chelsea will start her sophomore year at Bowie High School in just a few weeks, so in addition to her training, she’ll also have to contend with her school work and Bowie High School Poms Squad practices.
“My dad always told me school comes first, so I wouldn't be training at all if I didn't keep my grades where they should be,” said Chelsea.
In the next few weeks, Chelsea will test for her black belt. She’s feeling confident, though she knows he still has more work to do. She may even someday make the Olympic team, but she is taking it one step at a time. Right now, she's focused on the U.S. Open Taekwondo Championships this fall.
When Chelsea isn't preparing for her black belt test and the next match, she's practicing her routines for the Bowie High Poms squad. She also enjoys watching TV and hanging out with her friends.