At 25, Sarah Lehane has pretty much achieved all there is to achieve in Taekwon-Do.
The multiple-time European champion left the World Championships in 2017 with two gold medals in her back pocket with the Irish senior female team triumphing over all others.
With a Professional Masters of Education in Primary Education to keep her busy, you might think that now is a good time for her to take a step back from the martial art considering she’s at the top of the field.
But that’s not how she’s wired.
“I’ll always put Taekwon-Do first, Taekwon-Do has always been my number one. You just have to get your time management in order and set your goals out,” Lehane explains.
“Once I get all that, it’s quite easy to achieve. I’m doing my Masters, I’m doing my own training, I’m teaching three hours a week… but I’d never change it.”
When you hear the enthusiasm for the sport dripping from her voice, it’s not hard to imagine how Lehane can dedicate so much time to Taekwon-Do. She first tagged along to classes with her older brother aged six, and though she can’t even remember her initial introduction to it, she forged a love for the sport that has stayed with her since.
That’s a love she now enjoys imparting to the new generation.
“I teach Cubs which is four to six-year-olds. We teach three classes a week and if my instructor isn’t around or needs help, I’ll hop in for the older classes. At the moment I’m mainly teaching four to six-year-olds which is great fun as you can imagine.”
"I wanted to start a martial art to be like a Power Ranger."
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) May 12, 2020
Classes is almost the wrong word to use for the Cub sessions. It’s a playful, interactive setting where they learn so much more than physical activity. Yet it’s all cleverly devised in a fun-filled setting.
“It’s more learning around play and fun and games. They are learning Taekwon-Do but more through games so it’s not hard work. They’re learning the kicks and the punches but we also put a great emphasis on life skills.
“We’ll teach them all about road, water and home safety, stranger danger, bullying, the anatomy of the body, so it’s an overall learning experience for children.”
She shares the responsibility of the classes with her sisters and younger brother and it’s clear that Taekwon-Do is at the heart of the Lehane family. Her parents rarely miss a competition and she spent much of her youth being driven to events by the supportive duo.
“As I was growing up, I was seeing all the older guys coming through and getting their medals and going away and that’s what I wanted for myself. I wanted to be the best and win.
“Anytime there was a national competition around Ireland, my Mam and Dad would bring me. Sometimes our club, our instructor would bring us over to England when we were younger. Anytime I got to compete, I was there.”
Therefore having the World Championships in CityWest in 2017 made it so much easier for her family, friends and club to be there to witness the greatest achievement of her career.
“That was insane, it was amazing. It’s definitely my best memory in Taekwon-Do and the biggest thing I’ve ever achieved. I won the European Championships in Bulgaria a few months prior to that so I had high hopes for myself but until you do it…
“It was incredible, I had five fights, five tough fights and got there in the end. And my senior female team won the worlds as well so I actually came out with two gold medals in that championships. It was incredible.”
“It was so special. My Mam and Dad generally try to come to most of my competitions away so for them to be there wasn’t that strange but having all my friends there, other family members, club members there, it was crazy and so amazing.”
Ireland was ranked number one in the world at the time of hosting the championships. Over 1,000 competitors from major European countries as well as the likes of New Zealand, Jamaica and America landed in Dublin and our small nation came out as one of the best. This was particularly the case in the female competitions where Ireland boasts some of the best athletes.
Taekwon-Do is an ideal example of gender equality of sport and being part of that revolution is something Lehane is very proud of.
“When I first started out, the amount of females in the sport wouldn’t have been as many as there is now but now it’s nearly 50/50 I would say, especially in my club. It’s a great sport to get involved in because it is so balanced. It’s not male-dominant.
“As I was growing up, there were never enough females to fill a team. You need five competitors, six if you want to have a sub, and there was never enough to do that so they never made an Irish senior female team. But now in the last few years, we’ve won the World Championships and two European championships in team sparring in a row.
“It’s something I’m so proud to be involved with, for the younger girls in my club to be able to look up and see how well we’re all doing so it’s amazing to try and keep them in the sport and see what they can achieve. If we can do it, they can do it as well.”
World champion, teacher, role model. There might not be many more titles Sarah Lehane can add to her extensive Taekwon-Do CV but she is determined to tick every box and give back to the sport as much as it has given her.
“As I was growing up, my goal was to one day be a world champion and European champion and now I’ve achieved it. I’m actually a three-time European champion as a senior. My goal now is to keep winning, stay on top. I’d love to be one of the best ITF Taekwon-Do senior female fighters, that’s the goal.”