The thrills of the summer Olympics are behind us, but Tucsonan Rachel Meyer, a 16-year-old Taekwondo champion, has a new international competition to look forward to: the 19th World Maccabiah Games in Israel next July.
Meyer will turn 17 at the games in Jerusalem and will compete in the open division as perhaps the youngest adult member of Maccabi Team USA.
Meyer’s father, Scott, who practiced martial arts in college, introduced her to Taekwondo when she was 6 as a way to learn self-defense techniques. “I really was good at the sport and we continued doing it and that’s how I got to this level,” says Meyer, who is a Kukkiwon (internationally certified by the World Taekwondo Federation) third degree Black Belt.
Now 5’6″ and 104 pounds, Meyer won her weight division in the black belt class for Arizona for six straight years and has also won state championships in Nevada and New Mexico. She won USA Taekwondo’s Rocky Mountain Open last fall in her weight class and also became grand champion by beating girls in the larger weight divisions, notes Scott, her coach. She was selected to the Maccabiah team by 2013 Taekwondo head coach Marc Gitelman of Las Vegas.
“I love traveling for competitions. I’ve met amazing people while doing it,” says Meyer. Tournaments have taken her as far afield as Florida, Iowa and Texas, but the Maccabiah Games will be her first trip to Israel.
“I’m really looking forward to going to Israel and then representing the USA in Taekwondo,” she says. “To fight people from other countries should be really cool.”
Meyer notes that as an Olympic sport, Taekwondo has evolved differently from some other martial arts. Points are tallied by hits to sensors in electronic chest and foot protectors, with spinning kicks racking up additional points. Competitors also wear helmets, mouth guards, chin protectors, arm protectors and gloves.
Like many Olympics fans, Meyer names Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, a star of both the London and Beijing games, as one of her favorite athletes. But she’s also a big fan of Paige McPherson, who was only 18 when she went to the Olympic Games in London, where she won a bronze medal in Taekwondo for the United States. Meyer has worked with McPherson’s coach, “so having those ties really makes it awesome,” she says.
As for her own Olympic dreams, “Of course, I would love to go to Rio de Janeiro in 2016,” she says.
But for now, she’s concentrating on Israel. To compete, she must raise $5,000. Donations may be sent to Maccabi USA, 1926 Arch Street, 4R, Philadelphia, PA 19103 with “Rachel Meyer” on the memo line, or made online here.