7 November 2022

“Set your own goals and do it at your own pace”: Janine Watson’s Taekwondo journey

World Taekwondo Champion and Paralympic medallist, Janine Watson, has been a sporty person all her life, but she didn’t try Taekwondo until the age of 25.

Watson played netball, tennis and soccer for many years, until she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Sadly, the chronic disease’s impact on her eyesight, and other forms of neural and cognitive functioning, forced her to give up those sports.  

It was a huge blow at the time, but she now looks back on it as the beginning of a new journey that has changed her life.

“I had lost my sight, so ball sports were something I couldn’t do anymore, but I had a friend who was a Taekwondo instructor and she told me to give it a go,” Watson recalls.

One might assume she’d be nervous about starting a new sport with a disability, but that was far from the case. If anything, Watson was more concerned about her height.

“I was not worried about my disability at all, I just thought I was too tall,” she says.

“I thought that someone would leg-sweep me and I’d fall over. But my friend said, ‘no, don’t be silly, they can’t kick below the belt, you’ll be fine’.”

From the moment Watson stepped into the gym, she was welcomed by a friendly group of athletes of varying backgrounds and abilities. Instead of competing against her club mates, she found that the classes involved connecting with them, and learning and growing together.

“The thing that I love about Taekwondo is that it's a non-competitive environment. There are no winners and losers, and there's no scoreboard.

“You set your own personal goals, and you do it at your own pace. The people around you have their own personal goals as well. You've got that camaraderie where we've all got goals we want to achieve, so we support each other.

“Everyone is there to lift you up, no one’s there to drag you down. Everyone’s there to see you succeed, and you’re there to help others succeed as well.”

As Watson’s skills in kicking, punching, and blocking grew, so too did her confidence and feelings of physical empowerment.

Over time, she learned a series of complex patterns and combinations of strikes, which not only improved her technical prowess, but her balance and coordination. 

“With multiple sclerosis, coordination and balance is the thing that’s effected the most.

“Doing a lot of multi-limb exercises, cross hemisphere exercises, balance exercises, and learning new patterns – all these new things were basically rewiring my brain.

“My neurologist was quite surprised that I was having more function than they expected. He said, ‘I wouldn't usually recommend Taekwondo for my patients, but it's obviously working for you, so keep going’.

“Having to learn and remember those types of patterns and putting it all together has obviously really worked for me.”

Watson’s dedication to mastering the sport’s patterns has also brought her significant success on the world stage, reaching the very pinnacle of Para Taekwondo.

She’s a three-time World Para Taekwondo Poomsae Champion, with further Commonwealth and Oceania Para Poomsae Championships to her name. Watson also won a bronze medal for Australia in the +58kg Kyorugi division at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

But for Watson, the everyday tranquillity and wellbeing Taekwondo has brought to her life, is far more important than her sizeable trophy cabinet.

“That mental focus either in just learning how to breathe properly and to send to yourself, and to just be calm. Sometimes we live in such a busy world and have such a busy lifestyle, and just to be able to take that moment and to learn how to centre, how to breathe, and how just to remain calm. You can then take that into your everyday life.”

She has seen Taekwondo do wonders for many other athletes across all age groups, which is why she’s so excited to be a key part of Australian Taekwondo’s Inclusion Campaign.

“I absolutely love this new Inclusion Campaign of ‘it's your journey’. The reason why is that it's not solely a disability campaign. Even though when you watch some of the videos, you'll see some amazing athletes who have disabilities, this campaign is not solely for people with disabilities. It's about absolutely everyone.

“No matter what your age, your gender, your cultural background, your ability, your fitness level, Taekwondo is for everybody.”

For those who have a disability, and are feeling a bit anxious about giving the sport a go, Watson says you don’t have try it alone.

“If you do have a disability, you can do Taekwondo with friends and family, which is different to other para sports where you can only do it with other people with a disability.

“For example, if you were playing wheelchair basketball, you’d have to find people who are in a wheelchair, to play basketball with, whereas in Taekwondo, you can turn up with your mum and dad or your brothers and sisters, or you can turn up with your friend. They can actually do it with you.”

Whether you take that first class with a friend, or by yourself, Watson says it won’t take long for you to feel comfortable in Taekwondo’s friendly and inclusive communities.  

“There are these close, lifelong friendships you can establish. I recently attended a funeral for one of our club members and majority of the people there were people who’d trained with him and there were so many friendships he’d established through a lifetime of training.

“For me, it's a case of not only friendships and best friendships, but it's also given me opportunities, both in a career sense and a business sense. You make those business connections. I've had cases where I've needed an emergency plumber, and I know someone from my club who's a plumber, so I can ring them up and say, ‘can you help me out?’ It's a real community.

“Taekwondo, for me, has been life changing not only from a physical point of view, but from a mental point of view. It's also taken me all over the world.

“It has given me the courage to try new things and be okay with making mistakes and understanding that if I don't succeed, I can try again. Just keep going.

“Everyone's journey is different and it's just about having the courage to take that first step.”

For more information on Australian Taekwondo’s Inclusion Campaign, or If you’d like to chat with someone who’s already on their taekwondo journey, you can visit the official campaign page.

If you’d like to find out more about Taekwondo, check out the Australian Taekwondo site.

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