In recognition and celebration of International Day of the Girl, Soar Active is thrilled to share the first of our new interview series: Destined to SOAR.
This interview series is aimed at celebrating, recognising and promoting the incredible talent and ferocious courage of our young women of tomorrow.
Let's recognise the magnificent effort of girls' in sport across all codes!
Our first interview is with Akon Baak. Soar Active had the privilege to catch up with Akon at her training academy in the Adelaide suburb of Enfield to hear her story.
This 13-year-old taekwondo champion has one simple mantra: Never ever give up
Akon Baak’s road to taekwondo star has been somewhat of a multicultural journey. Born in Adelaide to an Australian mother of English, Polish and Russian ancestry and South Sudanese refugee father, Akon discovered Taekwondo in Scotland, and her trainer was a refugee from Afghanistan. This year she competed in the World Taekwondo Cadet Championships in Bulgaria, losing to a girl from the Côte d'Ivoire.
1. Akon, tell us about your early life?
Akon: I grew up in Crystal Brook, a small town about 200 kilometres north of Adelaide, near Port Pirie. Dad worked there as a town planner and Mum was studying for her PhD in Education. I was a pretty active kid and did all the sports that were available out there… netball, tennis, and basketball.
2. So how did you discover taekwondo?
Akon: When I was eight-years-old the family moved to Glasgow for a bit over four months so Mum could do a Post-Doctoral Fellowship. During that time, Dad would take me and my sister and brother on adventures around the city and one day we happened to see a gym and had a look inside. That’s when I saw the taekwondo mats, so I decided to give it a go, just for a bit of fun. I liked it immediately. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever done before. And it was exciting getting my uniform and white belt. As soon as we got back to Crystal Brook, I took my uniform into my classroom for show and tell. A few months later we all moved to Adelaide for Mum’s work (she is an academic).
3. What was your next step?
Akon: When I got to Adelaide, I discovered a little taekwondo academy in a local community centre run by a former Afghan refugee. It was really diverse, and as soon as I went there it just felt right. I started training Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, sometimes backing up for two classes - one after the other. So, for that first year or two I was training up to six hours a week, as well as teaching myself extra poomse (patterns of movement) from YouTube. I progressed really quickly because I loved it.
4. How do you balance your competitive training and managing school?
Akon: I do other sports too. I compete in rowing, basketball, and athletics. I was the National High Jump Champion this year. I’m still learning to balance my schoolwork on top of all that. I try and get all of my homework done during school hours.
5. What do you do in your downtime?
Akon: I hang out with my friends. We like going to Rundle Mall and window shopping. I don’t really watch much TV. I really like sleeping.
6. What makes you feel happy, brave, and strong?
Akon: Winning a taekwondo match, especially against someone who I know is good and who I have to work hard to beat. At six-foot-two it’s difficult for me to find someone in my division who is my size, so I train with a few older boys in my academy.
7. Tell us about a special moment in the last year?
Akon: I represented Australia in the World Taekwondo Cadet Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria in July. I won my first match, but lost my second to the girl who went on to win the whole competition. She kicked me so hard I went flying across the mat and almost crashed into the scoreboard. It’s the highest level I’ve ever competed at and I was excited to have the experience.
8. What is your ultimate goal?
Akon: To win the World Championships next year and eventually represent Australia at the Olympic Games.
9. What's your favourite attribute about yourself?
Akon: My long legs. They are great for kicking people.
10. Have you ever had to use your taekwondo for self-defence?
Akon: Not yet, but when I’m out with my friends and we walk past a bunch of people I can hear them talking about how tall I am. So, I don’t think anyone wants to pick a fight with me. If they do, at least I’ll know how to defend myself and my friends.
(Akon’s mother): It makes me confident as a mum, knowing I’ve got a 6-foot-two-inch daughter with a blackbelt.
11. What’s your message to anyone who tries to mess with you Akon?
Akon: Good luck.
12. What would you say to other young females about following their dreams?
Akon: If you never try something, you’ll never know how good you might be at it and where it might take you. I never imagined that from wandering into that little gym in Glasgow, I’d end up competing for Australia in Bulgaria.
13. What has Taekwondo taught you about life?
Akon: That a black belt is a white belt that never gave up. You’ve got to keep trying.
We hope that this conversation with Akon Baak encourages you to feel confident, feel strong and ready to SOAR.
Make sure you follow her journey on Instagram and you can support Akon by making a donation to her travel and competition costs for 2023 to the World Championships in Sarajevo through the Australian Sports Foundation
Know another inspiring young teen or want to be featured?
Email us at email@example.com with your/their story.