Every Monday night at Lone Star Black Belt Academy in Watauga, the Shooting Stars class welcomes students with a range of special needs and abilities.
“Feet together, good evening class,” said instructor Steven Jackson, who also owns the martial arts training center.
“Good evening, sir!” the class yelled in response.
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These young students try incredibly hard and rarely slow down. In 7-year-old Marcos Rosales’s case, he even kept running through a uniform malfunction when his belt slipped right off.
“He’s a go-getter,” said Maria Rosales, Marcos’s mom. “You know he’s not afraid to take any risks. So whatever the teacher puts in front of him — he’s willing to try and go for that.”
Marcos is the newest member of the class. He has Down syndrome, just like one of his Taekwondo instructors, Heather Jackson.
“Not only is she very disciplined and stringent with the students, and makes corrections at the blink of an eye,” Steven said about Heather. “But every day that you come by she’s always high fiving you and always hugging you and always welcoming you by name,” Steven said.
Steven is a 4th degree black belt with more than 25 years of experience in various martial arts. He is also Heather’s younger brother.
“I’m the person I am because of her,” Steven said.
“So did you teach him everything he knows?” we asked Heather. “Yes, ma’am, of course,” she said with a laugh.
One of the other students in Heather and Steven’s Shooting Stars class is 10-year-old Phoenix Snyder. He started classes at Lone Star Black Belt Academy when he was three years old.
Phoenix is on the Autism Spectrum, and his parents said Taekwondo has helped improve his balance and motor skills. He’s also competed in Taekwondo tournaments.
“He doesn’t give up,” Steven said. “And a lot of people—that’s tough to teach and he’s born with it naturally and it’s awesome to see.”
For Phoenix’s parents, Charissa and Jason Snyder, they say their son being pushed to excellence at Lone Star Black Belt Academy has translated into kindness and respect for others everywhere.
“He’s become an all-around really nice young man that I’m really proud of,” Jason said.
Phoenix also suffers from migraines and exhaustion from ordinary activities, but the leadership skills he’s learned in class have helped him push through.
“As he learns how to encourage other people, he learns at the same time how to encourage himself,” his mom, Charissa Snyder, said.
The Shooting Stars class at Lone Star Black Belt Academy is an inspiring group that’s a living message of equality, while also just being really sweet kids.
“Most people don’t realize that they’re different unless someone points it out to them, unless someone tells them,” Steven said. “And that’s something that we try to encourage, that it’s unique to be different, it’s okay to be different because that’s what makes you special.”
And no matter what our strengths or our struggles — we are all capable of accomplishment.