I call myself, “Mighty Michelle”, for many reasons. One of main reasons was that I was always active growing up, but it was not easy finding the right sports or exercises in the beginning. It took a lot of perseverance for my family and I to find my interests and passions for fitness, because they knew how much it can help me in my life.
When I was 6 years old, my mom signed me up for my town’s SCOPE soccer program. This program is meant for children with disabilities in my town to learn to play soccer, and every student had a buddy partner. My older sister, Samantha, was my buddy partner when I was participating. To be honest, I did not last long.. It was not even two months that I played, or even played honestly. My mom recalls that I was always just kicking dirt and wandering away while I was actually suppose to be the soccer team’s goalie. I knew that soccer did not interest me at that time.
Although, my mom never gave up on finding me the right sport to enjoy. When I was 7 years old, my mom signed my brother, Jon, and I up for gymnastics at the YMCA. I lasted much longer with gymnastics than I did with soccer; I did gymnastics for a whole year. My brother and I enjoyed doing gymnastics together! I enjoyed learning to do cartwheels and walking on the balancing beam. I also enjoyed doing rolls on the mats. Gymnastics helped me improve with balance and awareness. If it wasn’t for gymnastics, I would not have done as well as I did with my favorite sport of all time, which was taekwondo.
When I was 8 years old, I did taekwondo. I attended ATA Black Belt Academy. My mom knew I needed to learn self-defense, since I was entering into a whole, new school environment than I was in before. Also, she knew that it there was a lot of benefits for people with disabilities learning taekwondo, such as learning to maintain self-control. This sport did just that and beyond what my mom and I thought.
When I started out in taekwondo, it was rough. When it came to learning and practicing my belt forms, it took me more time to process each move than other students in my taekwondo class. Also, I used to cry whenever I got hit hard from other students during sparring and sat out a little while; I was facing my sensitivity to touch and learning about eye contact when it came to sparring. I overcame so much as the years went by! Whenever I got frustrated with not remembering the new few moves in my form, I would either raise my hand during class and have an instructor work with me on my forms in class, or my mom and I would let my instructors know that I need extra help after or before class time to work on my forms. Sometimes, during my extra help sessions, I worked on sparring too; I recall that it was easier for me to do sparring with an instructor than with other students. No matter what, in all of my years that I did taekwondo, I got back in my class, kept on learning when it came to forms, and fighting when it came to sparring. I improved on eye contact when it came to sparring, and I learned to reach out for help if I ever needed help learning a new move or routine in forms.
In addition, I had a couple of years that I was in the taekwondo school’s leadership program. This was an amazing experience for me because this was the first time I ever learned about being a leader. Each month, we had a theme that we focused on, and had to work on it in and out of the taekwondo school. Plus, we did leadership activities that promoted skills, such as teamwork and communication. When it came to competing in my taekwondo school’s tournaments, I competed in the ranks that were specifically designed for taekwondo students with disabilities. Eventually, I decided that by the time I earned my black belt, I wanted to compete with everyone else. Happily, I accomplished on being included with everyone else in tournaments, and I earned my black belt when I was 10 years old! The best part of all was that my mom and siblings did it together and all of us are black belts! I learned from this sport that hardwork pays off when you persevere.
As you can tell, I participated in many sports. Although, I had one point in my life that I was losing some motivation to be active, or even acknowledge the importance of fitness. This happened when I found out I was no longer able to continue attending my taekwondo classes, which was back when I was in 7th grade. I was devastated because it helped me a lot in my life, and it was my longest sport I ever done. Although, my family and I did not give up; By learning about fitness through my mom, I got my motivation back to stay active and learned to value fitness in my life.
In my early high school years, my mom signed me up for tennis lessons that were being provided in my town through a tennis company called “Cougar Youth Tennis Academy”. The tennis academy were providing tennis lessons for people living in my town. I attended tennis lessons every Sunday in the spring time. As time went by with this sport, I learned how naturally good I am at tennis and even with sports in general; Some people are naturally good at sports, and some are not, but it takes time to get to being good at a sport or exercise.
In addition, I always loved to move around, since it helps release the extra energy bundled within me. Not only I was doing tennis in my early high school years, I found passions for dancing and kickboxing. Dancing and Kickboxing remind me of my taekwondo days. Dancing reminds me to move around in my perimeter when it came to sparring, except now to move outside of my zone. When it comes to dancing, I eventually learned to connect with music to my body movement. The more I listen to music, the more I learned to relate to the music through dance. For example, I fell in love with Zumba music because it is upbeat and has routines to follow from in the beginning. With Kickboxing, it is filled of patterns and routines that allow me to continue training everything I learned from taekwondo, from side kicks to hooks. These two are still my favorite passions today.
Today, I have been doing a lot more when it comes to fitness, since been learning from my mom. I have been doing a mix of everything: walking, dancing, kickboxing, hiking, weight training, Yoga, any water-outdoor activities (Kayaking, Canoeing, Rafting), tennis, and etc. No matter what, exercising indoors or outdoors, I always put on music when I do my workouts because upbeat music drives me to do more. Over time, I learned fitness helps me release emotions and thoughts that are within me that need to be let out; I learned to deal with my emotions and thoughts better, thus developed a better self-control. What I enjoy the most in my workouts is that not only it is structured, but everything can be broken down into steps to perform well. I am committed to my life-long fitness journey!
There are other great benefits about fitness for people living with Autism: greater attention, increases concentration of tasks, improvement of various skills (ex: organization skills), and reduces problem behaviors. In schools, I suggest about a time in the classroom schedule for fitness time; It will make sure students are working on their physical health, not just mental health (ex: academics and social skills). Not only does fitness help people improve physically, but it helps mental health too. Fitness is a lifelong journey for everyone, and it is worth the journey for a better and brighter future.