Black belt Tae Kwon Do student's latest achievement
Doug Penning cheers with his tae kwon do class at the end of a
practice Wednesday at Athens Tae Kwon Do Center
Doug Penning led his tae kwon do class through warmup drills Wednesday afternoon. Behind him, a banner read, "A black belt is a white belt who never quits."
That sums up Penning. The 21-year-old will test for his black belt in the martial art Friday night.
The black belt is just another prize Penning, who has Down syndrome, has earned. He already has the praise of his teacher, the respect of his classmates and the love of his family.
Penning also has a date for Valentine's Day, a job at Chick-fil-A and a wealth of hobbies.
But tae kwon do is more than a hobby, he says. It's his passion.
"For me, I love to exercise and learn the forms and break boards," he said. "It's fun to be with my friends and spar with them."
At his daily practices, Penning kicks and punches through wood boards that measure half an inch thick, yelling with authority every time a board breaks. He then trades kicks and blows with three other classmates, who also will try for their black belts Friday night.
It took a few years for him to refine his forms and moves and move up through the belt color wheel. He started at the Athens Tae Kwon Do Center on Baxter Street two years ago as a red belt and now has progressed past the brown belt to - as it's known is tae kwon do - a recommended black belt.
"When he walked in here two years ago, he remembered everything he had learned earlier," said Kathy Carter, Penning's instructor. "Physically, he knows all the forms. I can show him a new one, and he's got it locked away."
Down syndrome impairs cognitive ability and development, but Penning has developed farther than many others who have the disorder, said Joann Penning, his mother.
Penning's three siblings showed him new activities and tried to keep him as stimulated as possible when he was growing up, she said. Now, he can play most sports and even the violin.
"We're just so grateful," she said. "I don't know how he does it all or remembers everything. He's very active."
Penning wants to stay active in tae kwon do even after he gets his black belt. He hopes to keep progressing so he can teach his own class one day.
"I've got to keep going," he said. "I love teaching. I learn everything from watching Mrs. Carter."
"I could really use an assistant instructor," Carter said to him, smiling.
Carter also is a post-graduate student at the University of Georgia, working on her doctorate in kinesiology with plans of teaching a tae kwon do class just for special needs students.
Before Penning can teach, he needs the black belt. And to get it Friday, he'll have to perform flawlessly on his form drills and sparring matches. He also must read an essay, which he says he's worked on for more than a month making sure it is perfect, in front of the crowd.
The crowd will have plenty of his supporters in it.
"He's just about invited the whole town, so he'll have quite the following there," said Tim Penning, his father. "I know he's really pumped up about it. It's the biggest thing that's happened in a long time."