WHILE HER friends were behind the wheel practicing so that they could earn their precious driver's licenses, 16-year-old Jeanna Beard was practicing kicks and punches so that she could earn a gold medal.
Now she's done just that.
The Gambrills girl won a gold medal at the U.S. Cup National Tae Kwon Do Championship on Oct. 27 in New Haven, Conn. Competing against athletes from the United States, Germany, Canada and Iceland, Jeanna took first place in sparring in the girls 14-17 age group.
She became involved in the sport at age 10 after seeing a flier for a karate class and deciding to give it a try. Before long, she was training at Vuong's Tae Kwon Do Center in Crofton.
Her older brothers, Jeff and James, had been active in sports, and Jeanna wanted to follow their example. But soccer and softball seemed too ordinary.
"I wanted to have my own thing," she said.
Why tae kwon do?
"I liked it a lot. It's really fun," she said. With a giggle, she added, "It makes your parents nervous - and that's fun, too."
Jeanna soon discovered that she was good at the sport. Before long, she was competing in tournaments around the country.
In the 2000 Junior Olympics, she captured a national championship in sparring. In the 2001 Junior Olympics, shortly after she had earned her black belt, Jeanna was awarded a third-place sparring medal.
Her gold medal at the U.S. Cup qualifies her for a spot on the National Junior Olympics tae kwon do team.
These victories were the fruit of years of hard work. Jeanna usually practices for an hour three times a week. But when she was preparing for the tournament, she practiced three to four hours every day.
Like others teens, Jeanna, a junior at Arundel High School, is busy with what her father, John Beard, calls "regular teen-ager stuff." She is active in her school's Key Club and she loves to listen to music with her friends.
An honor roll student, she hopes to become a veterinarian. She also has a job at Vuong's Tae Kwon Do Center, where she helps younger children learn her sport.
Jeanna says tae kwon do has made her stronger and more confident. She remembers being a mediocre pupil in elementary school. But once she started tae kwon do, her schoolwork improved, with her grades moving from C's to A's, she says.
The tournaments have been a lot of work but also a great opportunity to meet interesting people from all over the world.
And now that the U.S. Cup is over, Jeanna has been busy practicing her driving skills and hopes to add a driver's license to her list of accomplishments.