Emily has her hands in so many activities, it must be hard for her parents to keep up with her. In addition to being a hard-working fifth grade student at Cider Mill School in Wilton, Emily is a swimmer with the Wilton Wahoos, she plays trombone, piano and drums, she’s a member of the Girl Scouts, and she has even started her own blog on reviewing local restaurants.
And, most importantly, she is one of the best Taekwondo athletes in the state for her age group after winning two gold medals in sparring and poonsme (forms), respectively, at the 2013 USA Taekwondo Connecticut State Championships on March 23 at East Haven High School in East Haven.
All of this would be impressive for any 10-year-old to attain but when you realize Emily has been deaf since birth, her accomplishments become that much more remarkable.
“It’s amazing,” Emily‘s father Howard said of his daughter’s success. “When we first heard of her hearing impairment, for me, I prepared for a different life but she’s as normal as they get.”
Emily first used hearing aids as a newborn but when her hearing progressively got worse, she became a candidate for a cochlear implant. She had the electronic device surgically implanted in her right ear at the age of 2 1/2 and, ultimately, in the left ear at age 7.
When she received her first cochlear implant, it took some time before she could distinguish sound but one day when Howard was walking his daughter down the driveway, she said she could hear the birds chirping and queried, “What’s that sound?”
That’s when Emily‘s parents knew the implant was finally doing its job.
“I pretty much lost it when that happened,” Howard admitted. “We were crying tears of joy.”
Ever since then, Emily leads the life of any other youngster, albeit always on the move.
“It’s been almost a blessing in disguise,” Emily‘s mother Rocio said. “Everything she approaches, she wants to conquer. Because of the hearing impairment, she knows that and she over-compensates, which can be a good thing but also a bad thing sometimes. It’s been nothing but blessings with her.”
To help with her balance issues, Emily signed up to take karate when she was 4-years-old and then switched to Taekwondo two years later to give her more of a cultural experience. Her mother Rocio, who is a tremendous athlete in her own right, had experience in Taekwondo and encouraged her daughter to try it.
Emily took to it like a duck in water.
“It comes natural and it’s something that I’ve been doing since I was young,” said Emily, who also deals with rheumatoid arthritis.
Even when one of her cochlear implants gets knocked out during a match, she fights her way through it.
“It doesn’t frustrate me at all because I either catch it or hold it before I get a break to put it back on,” she said.
She’s earned a great deal of success in Taekwondo over the years, becoming a black belt in October of 2012, while garnering numerous medals and trophies. Emily even teaches one class per week at Taekwondo of Ridgefield, where she’s been the last 3 1/2 years under the tutelage of Master Jeong (pronounced John).
“She’s a good role model for the other students,” Master Jeong said. “Even when she’s tired, she never gives up.”
At the state championships, Emily was tested but came through with flying colors.
“My Taekwondo instructor told us that it’s very hard and you have to get everything right just to get a medal,” Emily said. “I was very excited (to have won two gold medals).”
With Emily‘s performance at the Connecticut State Championships, she qualified for the 2013 USAT National Championships at the Hyatt Regency Convention Center in Chicago from July 3-8.
It will be a challenge but Howard said challenges seem to power his daughter.
“It’s going to be my biggest competition and my first away competition,” Emily said. “I’m excited. I’m not nervous yet but I’m sure I will be. I’m hoping to at least get a bronze medal.”
Master Jeong said he thinks she can do better than a bronze at the national competition.
“She has a good chance to get a gold medal in sparring because that’s her specialty,” he said. “She’s been training for over three years now.”
As for her future in Taekwondo, Emily is shooting high.
“Maybe when I’m 30 I can go to the Olympics,” she said.
Hopefully Emily’s example of living life to the fullest can have a positive impact on other hearing-impaired children.
“It shows that the sky’s the limit,” Howard said. “She’s like her Mom, she’s very competitive and if you tell her she can’t do something, she’ll do it and if you think she can’t do something, she’ll do it. She’s very special.”
As for Emily, she has one thing to say about anyone who doubts what she or those with hearing impairments can or can’t do.
“You can do anything,” she said.