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Earlier this month, thousands of martial arts experts from 22 countries gathered in Argentina to compete in the Unified International Taekwon-Do Federation World Championship. Among the competitors was Stratford’s Paige Romanowski – who is 10 years old.

Romanowski was the youngest member to compete on the U.S. team and one of the youngest competitors at the championship, where the average age ranged from 18 to 35.

“It feels really good,” Romanowski says. “I feel really proud and honored to just be on the team.”

The fifth grader, who has been practicing Taekwon-Do since she was 6, earned three gold medals and a silver medal at the world championships.

Ken Mackenzie, Romanowski’s instructor, says she’s come this far because of her remarkable skills and self-discipline.

“She has natural ability, but that’s never enough,” Mackenzie says. “She has the ability to listen, to pay attention. She’s very mature. She’s a hard worker. It’s her work ethic, along with her ability to really focus, that sets her apart from other people her age.”

This maturity is exactly what brought Romanowski to Argentina. As she competed – and prevailed – in seasonal competitions throughout the past year, the Taekwon-Do community began to recognize her, Mackenzie says.

“Everyone knew who Paige was,” Mackenzie says. “Everyone was thinking, ‘Who is this kid, and where is she from?’ It was her work that made it happen. It was her performing and people seeing it in person. You believe what you see. That’s how it started.”

This recognition paid off when Romanowski was approached by Master Jade Hwang of the Unified International Taekwon-Do Federation to join the U.S. team and compete in the championship. Master Hwang had seen Romanowski compete and personally recruited her to join the U.S. team.

While Romanowski became known for her expert-level skills, she also developed a reputation as a friendly competitor, Mackenzie says.

“She’s always right there cheering on her teammates and even people that she’s met from other groups,” he says. “She’s a strong individual, and this is very much an individual sport, but she’s also a great team player. She’s right there giving high-fives and congratulating people or consoling them.”

In preparation for the championship, Romanowski trained every day at home, at the school and during training retreats with the U.S. team. She also prepared for the atmosphere in Argentina, which is different from the seasonal competitions, she says.

“You don’t want to mess up,” she says. “In a big crowd, some of them don’t know what to do, so they don’t know if you mess up. But in Argentina, they know.”

But Romanowski never let the pressure get inside her head, and she’s always competing for the same reason that she started practicing martial arts at age 6: it’s really fun.

“Usually other kids want to play video games or focus on cooking,” she says. “I want to be out there doing what I want. And this is what I want to do.”

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