Record breaker

By Mark Baker | Living Here, Sports | |

She stands perpendicular to “the machine,” her eyes intent on the target. She kicks her left leg back a few times, like a stallion ready to bolt, lets out a bit of snort, whirls clockwise, raises her right leg and … bam!

Those 10 slabs of pine, each an inch thick and a foot long, had no chance.

“Solid kick,” Tim Greathouse says with a chuckle, watching Sloane Cameron practice on Wednesday. “It’s just amazing.”

Greathouse, a longtime taekwondo instructor who owns the MooDo Academy of Taekwando Academy in Eugene, has been watching Cameron do her speciality, a power back kick, for years now. He began teaching her almost two decades ago, when she was a 9-year-old at Willakenzie Elementary School.

But Greathouse was never more proud of Cameron, now 28 and a fourth-degree black belt, than he was on June 19 in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the seventh annual U.S. Open Taekwondo Hanmadang Championships. That’s the day she broke 11 boards with her bare, size 8 right foot, believed to be a women’s world record for the sport of taekwondo power-breaking.

“I’ve always sensed that she’s a powerhouse,” says Greathouse, 45. “I’m not surprised at all with her success at this.”

Being the best in the world at something ought to grant you the right to demonstrate it at the world championships, Greathouse and Cameron believe. But there is no women’s division for power-breaking at the 2016 World Hanmadang (“hanmadang” means “celebration” in Korean) Championships that take place in Seoul, South Korea, the birthplace 70 years ago of the martial art of taekwondo, July 30-Aug. 2.

“No woman of any record, anywhere. of any arena, has got more (than 11 boards),” says Doug Fueschel, executive director of both the U.S. Taekwondo Committee and the U.S. Open Taekwondo Hanmadang Championships. “A spectacularly done, perfect kick,” adds Fueschel, who was there to witness it.

“I assumed that the world championships had this division,” Fueschel says. “I was stunned.”

Fueschel says Sang Chul Lee, president of the U.S. Taekwondo Committee, has petitioned the organizers of the World Hanmadang Championships in South Korea to include a women’s division for power-breaking next year. They are hoping that announcement is made at this year’s event.

“They haven’t said they’re going to let it be announced, but they haven’t said they weren’t,” Fueschel says.

Cameron, a 2004 graduate of Sheldon High School in Eugene and a 2009 University of Oregon graduate who works in software sales at Symantec in Springfield, says she will keep pushing until she can compete in South Korea. She is also believed to hold the women’s record of breaking seven concrete slabs with one kick, which she did in Florida earlier this month.

“I think it’s just a very vast cultural gap,” Cameron says of the world championships in South Korea. “Koreans just don’t see women in the same way. There just hasn’t been anyone pushing the envelope. But I think it’s time, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Jackie Ehlers, 17, who will be a senior at South Eugene High School this fall, broke nine wooden slabs, an age-group record, last month at the event in Colorado Springs and also hopes to compete in the world championships next year.

“She’s every bit the powerhouse that I am,” Cameron says. Ehlers can break more boards with a palm-heel strike of her hand than Cameron can.

Both will demonstrate their skills today during the MooDo academy’s annual “Breakathon” at Oakway Center in Eugene.

At 5-foot, 8 1/2 inches, and a lean 135 pounds, Cameron does not have the body size of the many men she often competes against, such as men’s record holder (12 boards) John Zurisk of Indiana. But it’s not about size and brute strength as much as speed and energy and a certain mentality, Fueschel says.

“How come Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan?” he says of the man many consider the greatest basketball player of all time. “It’s that. It’s a thing of poetry. It’s an art.”

It also takes a lot of hard work, says Cameron, who is also certified as a taekwondo instructor.

She recalls many “500-kick Fridays,” aiming for just a 2-inch-square spot on a punching bag, while training over the years.

“Just practiced the heck out of it,” she says.

It wasn’t until she and others went to the national championships in Colorado three years ago that they were introduced to using a “machine” to hold as many as 10 or more boards. Traditionally, boards broken in kicking are held by fellow students.

“They have the ‘machines’ because it’s too much mass (for a person to hold),” says Fueschel.

Upon return, they built a wooden contraption at the MooDo academy that they call a “machine” to hold the pine boards.

Now, if Cameron could just show those folks in South Korea what she can do.

“To show that women can be just as strong as men,” she says. “The ultimate goal is to empower women, to show that anything’s possible. You can accomplish anything. Breaking stuff is just fun. That’s just a by-product.”

But one last question: Doesn’t it hurt, kicking at wood and concrete with your bare foot?

“There is no doubt that it stings,” Cameron says. “But it’s a nice pain.”