Navy’s Taekwondo champion humbled by unwavering support

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Crowsnest - Fall 2015 / November 3, 2015

By Darlene Blakeley

She’s a world renowned Taekwondo competitor, but Ordinary Seaman Yvette Yong is humbled by the unwavering support she receives from her colleagues in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).

A naval communicator with HMCS York, Toronto’s Naval Reserve Division, OS Yong combines that part-time service with her civilian job as a cook at a Toronto restaurant and a heavy schedule of competitions around the world.

This past summer she competed in the Pan American Games in Toronto and placed fifth in her Under 46 kg weight class. “This was one of the most memorable experiences in my life and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity, especially competing in my own country,” she says. “Even though I had a heartbreaking loss in the bronze medal match, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. In all my years in Taekwondo, I really felt like I was supported that day by every single person, and that was all I needed.”

She adds that it was a surprise to see all the white navy uniforms in the crowd from HMCS York. “In that moment, I felt especially proud to be part of the Royal Canadian Navy, representing my country on the world stage as an athlete and military member. Words cannot describe how I felt seeing my commanding officer and unit behind me during my fights. It was truly an unforgettable experience, for which I am thankful.”  

OS Yong first got involved in Taekwondo when her parents tried to enroll her in a Kung Fu school, to follow in her father’s footsteps. He was previously a Kung Fu instructor in Malaysia. “Unfortunately, my parents were not able to find a Kung Fu school in the area where we lived, so they enrolled me in Taekwondo instead. I had my first class on the very day I registered and participated in my first competition when I was only 10 years old. The exhilarating feeling I had when I was in the ring was something I never forgot. My love for Taekwondo was born.”

OS Yong’s mother was also an athlete; a state track and field athlete in her hometown of Sarikei, Malaysia. “She has always told me that I reminded her of herself when she was young, and loved sports just as I do,” OS Yong says.

She also has two sisters, Yvonne and Ysanne. “My older sister Yvonne has always joked and told me that I was the one who took all of her athletic abilities in addition to my own. Although she is not the athletic type, she never fails to support me in all aspects of my athletic career and for that I am thankful. My youngest sister Ysanne has a natural-born ability as a dancer and she is heavily involved with competition in dance. To my surprise, she is also quite athletic in other areas and has joined wrestling in school.”

OS Yong trains twice a day with strength and conditioning in the mornings and Taekwondo in the evenings. Balancing training, competing, travelling and her jobs as a naval reservist and a cook is one of the most difficult things she has had to learn over the course of her athletic career. “With great support and understanding from my navy home base and my workplace at Asada (Restaurant), I’ve had the privilege of being able to pursue what I need to for training and competitions.”

She says her motivation comes from her love of Taekwondo, the people who support her and the connections she has made with those in the Taekwondo community. “The friendships I have made with other athletes around the world is priceless, as some of my best friends now were my competitors in the past.”

Some of her most memorable successes in Taekwondo were winning Gold, Female MVP and Best Fighting Spirit Award at the 2009 U.S. Open, as well as winning Gold and Female MVP at the 2011 World Military Games. Her most recent successes, apart from the 2015 Pan Am Games, were Bronze at the 2015 Australian Open, Silver at the 2015 Colombia Open and Gold at the 2015 Argentina Open. In early September she trained in Cuba for a week prior to heading off to compete in an event in Mexico.

OS Yong is conscious of the fact that wherever she competes in the world, she also goes as an ambassador for the RCN. “One of my proudest identities is as a Canadian naval reservist,” she says. “I remember on the day of my fight at the Pan Am Games there were people already talking about the RCN members coming out to support me. Before I stepped out of the athlete bus, I could see a few of the sailors outside and I felt so proud. It gave me the opportunity to speak about the military, and the navy in particular, with my friends, coaches and everyday Canadians who wouldn’t normally learn about their military.”

As she continues her busy schedule in the months ahead, she wants other people to know what it means to have dreams, and what it takes to achieve those dreams. “I always strive to do the best in what I set my mind to, and this is another reason for my motivation. I want to teach others that it is okay to set goals, and that although the road to achieving them may not be an easy one, it can be done with hard work and dedication.”

OS Yong is living proof.