SOUTH BEND -- Alecia Danch has faced unusual odds on her path to learning taekwondo.
The 22-year-old South Bend woman was born with mental and physical disabilities, and some things that most people take for granted are challenges for her.
Walking can be a struggle. She communicates with sign language because she can't speak.
But she's still managed to earn a black belt in taekwondo.
She can perform the martial art's poomsae motions. She can even break boards.
"You know, everybody's into something. She's into taekwondo," Alecia's mother, Janet Danch, said. "She lives and breathes it, watches it all the time."
Alecia began developing her love of the sport four years ago at Hong's USA Taekwondo in Mishawaka. Now she works on her skills at Hong's dojo in Niles.
On Saturday, she participated for the first time in a large public competition with about 200 other people at the USA Taekwondo Indiana State Championship at Century Center.
Although she fell during the competition, she picked herself up each time and finished her routine.
That kind of determination has inspired many other people who have seen her progress at Hong's, and the audience Saturday responded with a standing ovation.
Alecia is the youngest of Janet and John Danch's four children.
"She has a birth defect. There's not really a category for it," Janet said of Alecia. "Her brain didn't form right on one side, so she has low motor tone. ... She's had to be taught stuff that comes naturally to a lot of people. You don't really think about the things that come naturally to people until they don't."
Alecia decided four years ago that she wanted to try taekwondo, so Janet found Hong's in the phone book.
She walked only with crutches when she started going to Hong's, but that's not the case anymore.
"She's very persistent about not using her crutches," Janet said. "She falls down a lot, but she tries real hard. She doesn't get frustrated, she just gets right back up and keeps doing it.
"She's more confident," she continued. "I would be nervous at this (large event), but she's not. She's been looking forward to it."
Grand Master Soon Pil Hong and Master Ron Harris have worked extensively with Alecia at the Niles dojo.
Hong wants paralympic events to recognize taekwondo because he believes the martial art could help a lot more people as it's helped Alecia.
"Make them believe in themselves," he said.
Staff writer Kevin Allen: