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Poster child for perseverance
By Ron Skrabacz | Daily Herald Columnist

Hope Vevers

 

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Published: 6/6/2008 12:01 AM

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Check out the web site for Al's Black Belt Club in Lombard and you will see they claim to "Build Confidence Through Achievement" while providing an environment conducive to positive relationships, fostering self-discipline, self-confidence, and self-respect.

Elmhurst's Laura Vevers is one mother who would never dispute that claim. In fact, her daughter, Hope, could be the poster child for that very advertisement.

Hope, 14, earned her black belt on May 2 after joining the club almost four years ago. Due to the discipline and confidence she gained from the martial arts, Hope also competes in gymnastics, cheerleading, and figure skating. She is an athlete in every sense of the word.

Ironically, it is not a word Laura ever thought would be being associated with her daughter. It was ten years ago that Hope was diagnosed with autism apraxia. In September 2004, Laura decided to sign her up under Master Instructor Al Qahhaar.

"I had been told that Taekwondo was something that would work really well with kids with autism," she said. "So I went in and interviewed (Qahhaar) and we talked for a good 45 minutes to an hour. I wasn't sure how this would work for Hope, or if she could even do it."

Qahhaar assured her it would work and that he had already instructed one boy with autism for four years.

"(Hope) had never done Taekwondo before," Qahhaar said. "Her mother was absolutely certain that she wasn't going to limit Hope, and she said if they decided to do it they were going to stick with it. From day one she made sure Hope went to Taekwondo. We worked through a lot of struggles together, but Hope's done terrific."

Belts earned at the club can be taken away if the student fails to live up to expectations, both in and out of the club.

"At my school we have a tangible program in place to make sure the kids are improving as citizens, as sons and daughters, and we call those achievement stripes," Qahhaar said. "They kind of deal with the kinds of things kids do all the time - like helping around the house or doing what they're told the first time."

Not doing those things can have dramatic consequences.

"An option the parents can have is to have the child's belt taken," Qahhaar said. "Not to humiliate them, but to help them understand that once they earn something it takes hard work to keep it."

For Hope that road was a little bumpy at first. While autism impairs a child's social interaction and communication behaviors, apraxia creates difficulties in gross and fine motor movements. Consequently, the discipline required in martial arts was a constant challenge for her.

"It was a long hard struggle because with every belt promotion she'd promote on Saturday, and then on Monday she'd be turning her belt back in," Laura said. "She couldn't sit still, or she would be talking to everybody. She would be distracted. She wouldn't do what she was supposed to do at home, and she wasn't doing what she was supposed to do at school."

Qahhaar said that in the beginning they had to work on Hope's self-control - sitting quietly, listening, learning, and focusing.

"It wasn't difficult," he said. "We just had to remind her often. It's just a matter of knowing the classroom etiquette."

Eventually she got the hang of it and made a big decision.

"Hope's first goal that she ever made in her entire life that wasn't just my goal, was after her blue belt, she decided she wanted to become a black belt," Laura said. "That was her goal."

That discipline required to earn her black belt also helped her in the classroom at Delphi Academy (Lombard) where she is currently an eighth grader. Taekwondo was the foundation for that improvement, as well as all the other sports she has tried, according to Laura.

"I never thought of my daughter as an athlete," Laura admitted. "But when Hope was called an athlete, it changed everything in my mind. I thought she can be an athlete, and to discipline her with the discipline of an athlete, and train her like an athlete, that's how I took on my parenting style. I was her coach and trainer, and I'm training her for life."

With the black belt behind her, Hope's next athletic and life endeavor comes in July when she travels, without Laura, to Colorado to skate for the Ice Skating Institute (ISI) World championships in Denver.

For more information on Al's Black Belt Club call (630) 678-0750, or visit www.alsblackbeltclub.com.