RIO DE JANEIRO — A Virginia National Guard Soldier assigned to the Manassas-based Delta Company, 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team competed in the World Military Taekwondo Championships Nov. 27 – Dec. 3, 2018 in Rio de Janeiro.
Spc. Taylor MacLeod was the only Soldier from the Virginia National Guard on the 10-member Armed Forces Taekwondo Team making the trip to Brazil. The rest of the team was comprised of active-duty and Army Reserve Soldiers, most of them based out of Fort Carson, Colorado.
MacLeod got her start in martial arts at a young age at the urging from her family.
“My step-dad is Korean. When I was younger he got me into taekwondo,” said MacLeod. “When I hit 8th grade, I started doing competition taekwondo.”
MacLeod joined the National Guard to get involved in the All Army Sports program. She trained with the program the first half of 2018 before competing in Nationals in July. Then in September, she started training in Colorado for the World Military Taekwondo Championship, hosted by the International Military Sports Council, better known as CISM. In late November, the team traveled to Brazil for the games, the scope of which caught MacLeod by surprise.
“I didn’t realize how big it was until I got there and saw every other country’s military in uniform when we did the opening ceremony,” said MacLeod. “When we walked in front of the audience, they cheered the loudest for our country. Right then and there I knew it was a big deal to represent the United States. We had to be in tip-top shape 24-7, even when weren’t in the ring.”
The quality of the competition also came as a shock to MacLeod.
“I was expecting the competition to not be as hard. I’ve been to a lot of international taekwondo competitions, but I’ve never been to one like this,” explained Macleod. “These competitors don’t have a lot of ranking, but they have a lot of heart, because they’re fighting for their country. It’s a different kind of athlete.”
MacLeod had the full support of her unit back in Virginia. Her commander, Capt. Gerald Acker, said having her as part of the 229th has been a unique opportunity.
“Being able to support MacLeod in her endeavors has been a great honor,” said Acker. “It’s rare for our unit to see athletes of her caliber so we attempted to help her in every way we could.”
MacLeod had previously competed in other international competitions. She was a member of the U.S. Junior National Taekwondo team, and fought in tournaments in Chinese Taipei and in Cali, Columbia, where she won a gold medal.
Unfortunately, MacLeod did not medal in Rio. She lost her first match to a fighter from Slovenia. None of the members of the U.S. Armed Forces team won a medal, which she described as unfortunate.
“I wish I could have won, but I’m looking forward to going to the CISM Games in China next year,” said MacLeod. Those games are being held in Wuhan City, China late in 2019.
Despite the disappointing outcome in Brazil, MacLeod said the experience meant a great deal.
“There’s a lot of war and toughness going on in the world, but to be able to be in one room competing in one sport with every country – just getting along, doing what we love. That was pretty amazing to see,” she said. “Friendship through sport.”
MacLeod also had some advice to any Soldier looking to become competitive in athletics.
“If you have time and you’re really passionate, you can fit any type of sport into the Army, through the All Army Sports program. It doesn’t have to be Taekwondo.”
Acker agreed, and commended MacLeod for her decision to serve.
“Many people with her talent may have chosen to focus solely on training for the Olympics, however, she chose to also serve her country,” said Acker. “I hope that other young men and women recognize such opportunities that the Guard presents and will also choose to serve.”