View Full Version : Woman battling a life-threatening illness represents ATA and kicks ass!

7/06/2004 7:41pm,
Top of her class

By Ernest Bowker

[7/5/04]Joni Matthews doesn’t look like a woman battling a life-threatening illness.

A bright smile beams out from under silvery blonde hair as she bounces around the room. She practices kicks and punches with enough energy to power a small city. And then she shows off her world championship medals, won just days before.

Matthews, a 59-year-old Vicksburg resident, won the American Taekwondo Association world title in forms at the ATA World Championships June 26 in Little Rock, Ark., and was second in sparring. It’s the first world championship in three tries for Matthews who competed against other first-degree black belts in the women’s 50-59-year-olds’ age group.

It also comes a mere eight months after she was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, a condition in which the body’s own immune system mistakenly thinks the liver is an enemy and attacks the liver.

“Anybody can get down. I didn’t let it get me down,” Matthews said of her fight with the disease. “It’s about attitude and faith, and I was convinced I was going to be fine.”

It wasn’t always a sure thing, though.

In May 2003, Matthews showed up for a taekwondo class despite a fearsome headache. Halfway through, the headache became unbearable and she excused herself. On the way out the door, a trainer checked her blood pressure and was astounded at the high reading.

Matthews went to the emergency room that night, and spent the next six months visiting doctors and hospitals. In November, she was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis and put on a cancer-fighting drug that amounts to a low-level form of chemotherapy. The drug has brought the hepatitis under control.

“It’s a form of chemotherapy, but it’s a very low dosage,” Matthews said. “I’m doing my best and staying active.”

Throughout her battle with hepatitis, Matthews used taekwondo to stay focused and stay active. She eased up on her training a bit, but still competed at the 2003 ATA World Championships and several tournaments throughout the year. Matthews’ instructor, Kevin Vaughan, did his best to keep her from overextending herself, but had little success.

“When something like that happens, I was constantly asking her, ‘what is your doctor saying? What can we do?’” Vaughan said. “She would usually go one step past where she should have been.”

Matthews earned enough points at tournaments in the past year to qualify for this year’s World Championships, but faced another challenge. Her health problems worsened, and she had little time to train. Matthews worked on her forms, a routine of 81 movements, by going over them in her head. Vaughan told her about a former prisoner of war who improved his golf game through mental practice while in captivity, and thought a similar approach could help Matthews’ keep her skills sharp.

So day after day, Matthews practiced the forms in her mind. And when the time came to perform at Worlds, she executed flawlessly.

Unfortunately, two other competitors were just as good. After the competition, the judges announced a tie and raised both of their hands.

Matthews’ heart sank, thinking the tie was for first place. Moments later, she wept tears of joy when she realized the tie was for second place, not first.

“She thought she was in third place. Then when they raised her hand, she was like ‘this is great,’” Vaughan said. “That’s when it really hit her and she fell apart. That was pretty cool.”

While Matthews was able to practice her forms mentally, sparring was a different story. She was only able to spar twice before Worlds, and faced three grueling, back-to-back matches to win the championship.

She came through OK at Worlds, winning her first two matches. In the title match, she went to the wire with Carol Rafferty before losing in sudden death. Despite the loss, she was happy to get one gold medal and see someone else have an opportunity to win.

“She was just as happy that someone else won,” Vaughan said. “It was a joy to see, and it made me happy to see that I have students like this.”

Matthews credits taekwondo for a lot of things in her life. It is helping her stay focused through the bout with hepatitis, has opened new doors and made new friends for her, and given her a new outlook on life.

“It was scary. But you just have to stay positive, and taekwondo helps with that. It keeps you focused and makes you realize what’s important in life,” Matthews said. “People can pity themselves, or they can do something about it. And I’m not one to pity myself.”

(Picture and caption at link)


I think it's cool she was still able to come in second.
Dedication OWNED!

Psycho Dad
7/06/2004 7:53pm,
It's cool to have the time and conditioning to do martial arts at her age. Hope I can do the same when I'm 59.

Although with any form of hepatitis I'd be even more scared of those liver kicks.

7/21/2004 1:00am,
yea thats awesome

11/05/2006 4:50pm,
I just found this by accident. She & Mr. Vaughan are my son's TKD teachers.