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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    No stopping this Taekwondo champion from Norwich

    Amanda Gregg, of Norwich, works with sisters, from left, Aria, 6, Ella, 8, and Olivia, 10, on kicks at Integrity Taekwondo in Uncasville during class on Monday, June 26, 2023. Gregg, who has autism, wants to become a special education teacher and hopes to one day open her own Taekwondo school. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Amanda Gregg, of Norwich, works with twin brothers Spencer and Anthony Liang, 7, to stretch before class at Integrity Taekwondo in Uncasville on Monday, June 26, 2023. Gregg, who has autism, wants to become a special education teacher and hopes to one day open her own Taekwondo school. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Amanda Gregg, of Norwich, demonstrates a punch on the bag to Aria Porter, 6, as she works with students at Integrity Taekwondo in Uncasville during class on Monday, June 26, 2023. Gregg, who has autism, wants to become a special education teacher and hopes to one day open her own Taekwondo school. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Amanda Gregg, of Norwich, works with students at Integrity Taekwondo in Uncasville during class on Monday, June 26, 2023. Gregg, who has autism, wants to become a special education teacher and hopes to one day open her own Taekwondo school. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Montville ― Amanda Gregg was so timid when she first began training at Integrity Taekwondo in Uncasville that she barely could look anyone in the eye.

    A first-degree black belt and three national championships later, who is autistic, feels that there’s nothing too big for her to overcome.

    “Now I walk in like I own the place,” Gregg, 30, told The Day.

    “I just did it because I love this sport,” she said. “I never really thought I would make it as far as I did.”

    Anthony Heyl, the master and head instructor the school, said he’s worked with Gregg for her entire five-year career at Integrity and called her journey incredible.

    Gregg, a Norwich resident, is Heyl’s only student to progress through every belt rank in the discipline. She plans to test for her second-degree black belt alongside Heyl this fall, who will going for his sixth-degree. She’s progressed so far that Gregg now teaches the youth classes at the studio four days a week.

    “Every instructor wishes they could have a student like her,” Heyl, 41, said. “That’s for damn sure.”

    The two, along with Heyl’s parents and owners of the studio, Andy and Margaret, have traveled around the country for competitions and as far as Australia, where Gregg won a gold medal in November 2022.

    Competitions in the United States are held by Athletes Without Limits, an organization that helps athletes with intellectual disabilities compete in a variety of sports. Virtus is is an association of 87 countries that manages eligibility requirements for athletes with intellectual disabilities and organizes annual regional and world championship events.

    Gregg and the Heyls went to France in early June to compete in the 2023 Vitus Global Games, where she took home gold. The games included more than 1,200 athletes from 50 countries, with the U.S. sending nine Taekwondo athletes, its largest team yet.

    Though Gregg has a knack for bringing home gold medals, she knows that she can never really lose in competition, as there’s always something to learn from in defeat.

    “We don’t lose,” Gregg said. “We win or we learn. We never lose.”

    When she’s not training or teaching students, Gregg stays busy with her own education and full-time work schedule.

    She works at Mohegan Sun on the support operations team, and works in arena concessions, a VIP lounge and helps with marketing. Gregg also works as a job coach in the community viability program where she helps others with intellectual disabilities find jobs at the casino, a program she was once a member of herself.

    Gregg is also a student at Three Rivers Community College with plans to transfer to either Mitchell College or the University of Connecticut. She said she wants to become a special education teacher and hopes to one day open her own Taekwondo school.

    “I just hope to inspire other people like me to be able to do this, or do what they love, without listening to people tell them they can or can’t do something,” Gregg said.

    Gregg said she is constantly learning from both her instructors and students. With her students, she said she is able to break down difficult techniques into ways that work for the student.

    She’s taken the specific names of movements and altered them to reflect their appearance, such as “answer phone, throw it down,” and “scoop the ice cream.” She said it’s a way to keep the class fun while also teaching students, as well as herself, to not give up.

    “It helps me learn to keep pushing forward,” Gregg said. “Push forward for the goal as we say.”

    Gregg and Heyl are pushing forward with hopes of starting a program dedicated to students with intellectual disabilities.

    “(People with intellectual disabilities) are not given many opportunities and we want to be able to give them as many opportunities as they’re allowed,” Heyl said.

    The journey to get to this point has not been easy for Gregg. She said growing up, teachers in school did not fully understand her condition, and neither did she. With some motivation from her parents, Andrea and Donald Predmore Sr., and seeing her younger brother Donald Jr. take classes, she has found a place where she feels she fits in.

    Gregg said she continues to look up to her masters and instructors, such as Heyl, and has always viewed Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan as role models.

    She also named Evan Medell, a bronze medalist in Taekwondo at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. It marked the first U.S. medal in the sport.

    Gregg hopes that she can continue to learn and better herself, and maybe become a role model for other students. She’s started #UniqueTKD to help spread her message.

    “The only ones that set limits for them are themselves,” Gregg said.

    k.arnold@theday.com

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