Ashley Hunziker ’18 is a Tae Kwon Do teacher, coach and competitor driven to help others.
Hunziker, a 24-year-old public health major, holds down a full-time job teaching and coaching at iTiger Tae Kwon Do Academy in Winchester, is training for the national college Tae Kwon Do championships, prepping for her fifth-degree black belt (5th Dan) test, and working toward a future in which she hopes to be a physician assistant.
“I’m trying to combine both my worlds into one,” said Hunziker of her future plans. She hopes to one day open a medical mission program to help people in medically underserved countries and, at the same time, teach the martial art of Tae Kwon Do to patients (particularly women and children) who need to defend themselves.
Self-defense prompted Hunziker to begin taking Tae Kwon Do, just after her 8th birthday. She had been bullied for being biracial (her mom Jang Suk is Korean and her dad Robert Mark, Caucasian), and for being the child of a former enlisted soldier and overweight. Her mother also encouraged Hunziker and her older brother Daniel to take the martial art to stay connected to their Korean roots. Hunziker was born in Seoul, South Korea, but raised in Busan, South Korea, for a time, and lived in a couple of U.S. cities before her family settled in Woodbridge, Virginia, when she was a child.
Hunziker’s teacher in Woodbridge was Grand Master Dong Il Kim, who eventually moved his studio to Winchester. While she learned self-defense under his tutelage, she also discovered how to be patient and to consider the perspectives of others – a skill which developed as she considered how to deal with opponents. She also teaches her students to focus on inner growth, considering what happens off the mat as important as what occurs on it. Tae Kwon Do makes a person think creatively and strategically, she said.
That creativity is apparent in Hunziker’s approach to life, whether through her idea for a medical mission program or how she’s approaching her fifth-degree black belt test, which she has turned into a fundraiser for the Free Medical Clinic of Northern Shenandoah Valley.
Hunziker is required to break 150 boards for her test, and for a donation of $10 or more, she’ll write a person’s challenge or motivation on a board, and then break it, as part of the test. She said she wanted to show, through the fundraiser, that no matter the problem, it can be overcome.
She has also set up a Go Fund Me page for the effort.
“I think her fundraising idea represents one that is both a distinct community need and something that Ashley is passionate about – helping improve access to healthcare,” said Associate Professor of Public Health Audra Gollenberg, Ph.D. “She learned of the great work of the Free Medical Clinic when another public health student presented her internship project for the class Ashley was attending. She realized that much of what the Free Medical Clinic operates on is grants and fundraising, and so I believe she decided this was a worthy cause for her efforts.”
Prior to her black belt testing, she’ll also compete in the college national championships in Tae Kwon Do, to be held at University of California, San Diego, at the beginning of April. She’ll compete in the 67 kilogram weight class. The number one competitor in each weight class will make the USA university team and will travel to Taipei, China, for the University World Championships.
Competition isn’t new for Hunziker. She started competing regularly after getting her first-degree black belt at age 10. A posterior cruciate ligament injury in 2010, along with financial issues, scuttled her Olympic dreams, but not her passion for Tae Kwon Do. As she took community college classes, she also worked as George Mason University’s Tae Kwon Do coach, but left after a year to concentrate on her studies and transfer to a four-year program.
Even after deciding to focus on her studies, she continued to compete, and earned a silver medal in Tae Kwon Do at South Korea’s National Sports Festival, held on Jeju Island, in October 2014. “I had a really tough loss with China,” she said.
She decided to continue her studies at Shenandoah last August because her coach had moved to Winchester, she liked the small atmosphere on campus, and she felt secure here. “I also wanted to bring diversity to the campus” and give back to the community. “Living in the Winchester area has really benefited me a lot.”
It appears that the benefits of Hunziker being at Shenandoah are mutual.
“Ashley is a passionate student who embodies what it means to be a global citizen; being open-minded, involved, and contributing to a global society,” Gollenberg said. “[Ashley] hopes to volunteer at the Free Medical Clinic for a future public health internship,” said Gollenberg before adding, “I enjoy having Ashley in my classes and hearing her contribute her perspectives to class discussions! She is an absolute joy; always with a smile on her face!”