Petro-Canada Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence grant program recipients series
Part 1 of 3: Leonarda Andric (athlete) & George Koh (coach) – taekwondo
By Martin Cleary
Ottawa’s Leonarda Andric has played a variety of sports in her young athletic career – soccer, basketball, track and field, rugby, badminton and touch football – and enjoyed every one of them.
But when she turned 11 years old, her father wanted her to explore the combative sport of taekwondo for something a little different. As a loving parent, he figured it would serve her well in her future.
Not only has Andric invested the last decade learning how to defend for herself, but also she has developed into an accomplished fighter, working her way along the pathway for a potential berth on Canada’s Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games team.
“In the beginning, my dad wanted me to learn taekwondo so when I became older and independent I would be able to take care of myself,” Andric, a third-year biomed-health sciences student at the University of Ottawa, said in a recent phone interview.
“Originally, I loved playing all sports and enjoyed them. But when I got my black belt (in taekwondo), I became serious (about it). I thought getting my black belt was the end, but it’s only the beginning.”
It took Andric, 20, about six years to achieve her black belt as she diligently worked her way through all the stages – white to orange to green to blue to red to black with a variety of stripe levels along the way.
Andric is focused on the competitive fighting aspect of taekwondo rather than forms and patterns. Fighting has given her an opportunity to chase an Olympic dream in 2024.
“I’d like to think it’s realistic,” she said. “I still have to keep working hard. Definitely, it’s a possibility.”
In the summer, Andric learned her push for the 2024 Olympics would receive a major boost, when she and her coach George Koh were one of 56 athlete-coach pairings to win a $10,000 grant from the Petro-Canada Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence program.
Petro-Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee announced the names of the athletes and coaches last month. Athletes were eligible for grant consideration by their national sport governing body if they weren’t receiving any federal funding.
Andric and Koh will share the grant equally and the monies can be used for travel expenses, equipment, competition fees, medical treatments, etc. Koh has been the owner and head instructor of the Phoenix Taekwondo Martial Arts Academy for the past 20 years.
This is the 35th year of Petro-Canada’s FACE program, which has provided more than $13.5 million in financial assistance to more than 3,500 Canadian athletes and coaches.
Andric’s 2023 and 2022 competition seasons have taken her to Turkey, Great Britain, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Brazil, France, the United States, Puerto Rico and Bulgaria.
“I was very excited,” Andric said about receiving the grant. “At first, I couldn’t believe it. I’ll use the money for competitions. We don’t have many competitions in Canada and travelling gets expensive.”
Andric’s most recent competition was the President’s Cup Panamerica 2023 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She won her first match, but lost to Ashley Kraayeveld of Mississauga, ON., in the semifinals of the women’s senior 62-kilogram class and earned a bronze medal.
In November, Andric will attend the Canadian Olympic taekwondo trials in Toronto and the winner will advance to the Pan American Zone qualifier. The top two taekwondo fighters in the zone will qualify for the Paris Olympics.
She expects there will be three fighters in her weight class at the Canadian trials and Kraayeveld, who was the President’s Cup silver medallist, will be her main rival to advance to the zone qualifier.
“It’s really rewarding. I try to compete everywhere and prove to myself I can be the top Canadian,” she added. “I’m a competitive person. I try my best to be on the top of the podium.
“I’m a hard worker and dedicated. I put the time in. I have goals and they drive me.”
According to Taekwondo Data, Andric has won 24 of her 36 fights, since she started international fighting in 2017. Her efforts have earned her nine gold, seven silver and four bronze medals in open tournaments and one bronze in a continental championship.
“It’s so different than any other sport,” said the Glebe Collegiate Institute grad, who enjoys the creative side of the sport and the need to be alert every second of a match.
“The training is a huge part of it. It’s full body. You need to be in good condition, you need strength and quickness.”
Along the way, there have been some aches and pains. Proud of the fact she has never broken a bone in competition, Andric has sustained a dislocated shoulder and finger as well as nose damage from a direct punch.
By finding the right diet of protein, vegetables and fruits, and a rigorous training schedule, she has been able to maintain her weight for her 62-kilogram division. Andric trains up to 29 hours a week, including two hours in the morning and three hours at night Monday to Friday plus four hours on Saturday.
Andric also was thrilled coach Koh also received grant money.
“He has done so much for me,” she explained. “I owe everything to him. He has helped me mentally, challenged me and knows how to push me and challenge me to be better.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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