Tamara Bouchard and Alex Mayotte may have navigated somewhat different journeys, over the year, but come the end of June, their final destination will be the same.
The pair are representing Minnow Lake Place Taekwondo at provincial championships at the Toronto Pan Am Centre, something of a summer ritual for these two very accomplished local competitors.
Just 15 years of age, Bouchard has been involved in taekwondo for the past eight years or so, ever since a classmate who was involved in the sport assembled a class project that piqued her interest. “I tried a lot of other sports when I was younger, but I enjoyed this the most, so I just stuck with it,” noted the grade ten student at St Charles College.
“I started to get really competitive when I was twelve, I've been pretty successful since. I didn't really know what to expect, but I had a really good coach.” That coach, until this most recent September, was Mike Larose with Falconbridge Taekwondo. Unfortunately, a career move that would transport him to Barrie forced something of a domino effect for Bouchard.
“I needed to find somewhere,” she said with a smile. “I wasn't going to just quit. I had to do it somewhere, I didn't care where. It was a big change for me moving to this club, but I like it. It's make me a better fighter. It makes me think about why I am doing certain moves.”
Taekwondo meets often feature a mix of sparring and pumsae (forms), with Bouchard finding her niche within the more combative outlet for the young martial artists. “It's hard to do both, at high performance, and I was more successful in sparring,” she said. “I'm more offensive. I like hitting first, going in first, and then I react to what they do.”
Though Bouchard has competed recently in the 58 kg division, she is hoping to pare down to the 55 kg bracket by the time the Ontario championships roll around. “I'm usually the shortest person in my division,” stated the young woman who stands roughly 5'6”. “In this new division, the girls should be more the same height as me.”
Alex Mayotte, by contrast, could have easily been the classmate who was working on the taekwondon project at a very early age. Such is the nature of your world when your father (Ghislain) is both a competitor and a sensei in the sport.
“I started when I was three and a half,” noted the 23 year old recent graduate of the Health Promotions program at Collège Boréal. “My dad was doing stuff at home and I was just following him, well, trying to follow him. He brought me to the club one day and I stuck to it.”
Given that background, it only stands to reason that Mayotte is very much a student of the sport, breaking down his matches at so many different levels. “If someone is really aggressive and you are an aggressor too, it just seems like a clash where no one is gaining any ground,” he said. “On the other hand, if both are reserved tacticians, then there's not much going on.”
“I find that I am a hybrid, sort of between the two. If I have to be the aggressor, I will. If I have to lay back a little bit, that's what I will do. I like to see what my opponent is going to do, how he reacts to my movements. If I move in, does he back up, does he stay in, does he throw a shot at me. It's a lot of trial and error.”
Having worked his way up to international events before taking a step back to focus on school – Mayotte has twice entered the U.S. Open and has attended the Canadian Open on four occasions – the local athlete is hoping to regain the form he displayed while completing his secondary school studies at Ecole catholique du Sacré Coeur.
“When I was practice wrestling, in high school, and doing taekwondo at the same time, my conditioning was much higher than it ever was,” he said. “The resistance training in wrestling also made me stronger for taekwondo.”
And while a big part of returning to his peak is certainly linked to his general level of overall fitness, there is still growth, in his eyes, that must also be garnered when it comes to his strategic approach to each bout. “My ring management has to improve,” said Mayotte.
“With the more experienced competitors, even if you're stronger or faster than them, they will put you in a spot that you don't want to be, and that you don't realize you are in. That's how they will get you.”
Similar to boxing, the general approach for most is to try and control the center of the ring, or the middle of the mat, when it comes to taekwondo. “But you can also flip this around,” said Mayotte. “If I notice that my opponent does not have good footwork, I want to be more on the outside to be able to move around him and pick out my shots.”
Prior to heading to provincials, both Bouchard and Mayotte will attend a tournament at the Pan Am Centre in Markham, with Minnow Lake Place Taekwondo teammates Jean-Daniel Lokofo, Liam Larose, Adam Kulik, Cederic Woychuk and Scott Myerscough also in attendance.