She’s a bundle of energy with the spirit of a fighter. A goal-oriented dynamo with a soft spot in her heart for her tiny hometown of Clinton.
In late September Hedges, 45, will hop on a plane for England to compete in the International Tae kwon do Federation World Cup. It’s the result of 22 years of hard work.
The two-time United States Tae kwon do Federation national gold medalist sat down with the Missoulian to talk about her adventure.
Q. Why did you take up tae kwon do initially?
A. That’s actually not a very pretty story. I took it up for self defense. I was in not a very good relationship. I just felt I wouldn’t let another man treat me the way the last man treated me, not without feeling me.
Q. How did you qualify for the World Cup?
A. For me it’s been an ongoing process since the beginning of this year to go to tournaments to qualify. My final tournament was on May 19 in Philadelphia. What’s been so hard for me, and liberating, is I’ve had to go through women half my age to attain my seat. What’s kind of nice now is when I do get to the World Cup I will be fighting at 121 pounds and I’ll be fighting women that are age 36 to 45. I still have the spunk and I’m not too old to pounce. The girls in England are going to feel me.
Q. In addition to your job as a respiratory therapist, you operate a tae kwon do school. How did that come about?
A. I got my own studio in ’04. I got back into boxing and actually the gal who owned the Blue Horse Gym in Clinton, her husband was battling cancer so I donated all my money that I earned through boxing for two years to help pay for medical expenses. She had a building next to her gym and offered me a spot in there to open up my martial arts studio.
Q. ITF tae kwon do is different than Olympic-style tae kwon do. Can you explain the differences?
A. We kick and punch to the head and we wear headgear and hand and feet guards. It’s kind of like a mild kickboxing match. We don’t wear the chest protection they wear in the Olympic style. We go for three-minute continuous rounds. We don’t stop or break unless somebody hits the ground.
Q. How different will the World Cup be than your bouts in the States?
A. I’m going to a bigger pool. There’s 1,500 competitors from 50 countries. I’ll be competing in patterns and sparring. But sparring, the fighting side is where my heart is at.
Q. Can you give me an example of how you’ve been preparing?
A. I teach my tae kwon do class at night then I come to Missoula and I spar with the guys from AKK (American Kenpo Karate). They’ve been helping me immensely.
Q. You stand just over 5 feet tall. What compelled you to get into such a potentially dangerous contact sport?
A. My instructor, Master (Fabian) Nunez, was a world champion kickboxer. When I was 22 or 23 years old we’d go to tae kwon do competitions and I was getting to the point where I wanted more. I asked him, ‘Do you think I have what it takes to be a kickboxer?’ He told me ‘I do, but I’m going to tell you I’ve never trained a girl. I’m going to tell you one thing: You carry yourself like a champion in the ring. No crying in kickboxing.’
Q. Have you ever been seriously hurt?
A. I got my nose broke and my eyes would not stop watering. All I could think about is Master Nunez is going to think I’m crying. I told him, ‘I promise I’m not crying!’ He’s like, ‘Carole, it’s OK, your nose is broke!’ I finished that fight and I won. But I was afraid he was going to quit on me.
Q. What is it about your style that works?
A. My quick hands. It doesn’t help to be vertically challenged. That’s why I run sprints, because I’m smaller. It’s part of my game plan to be in better shape than my opponent. The rounds are three minutes and I’ll fight anywhere from 10 to 15 rounds.
Q. How would you describe yourself as a fighter?
A. I’m extremely aggressive.
Q. Do your husband and son worry when you’re fighting?
A. My husband was a professional bull rider, so he loves adrenaline. And my son, he’s OK with it. He helps me, holds targets for me.
Q. What are your goals in London?
A. I’m going for gold. I’m mentally prepared. I’ve fought in Vegas before and I know what it’s like to be in the ring where a girl is trying to knock my head off.
Hedges wishes to thank those who have donated money to help defray the cost of her trip.