A taekwondo demonstration at a school fete set Tayla Eckley on a path to glory.
Eckley was eight years old at the time and interested enough to try out with City West Taekwondo.
One session and she was hooked.
Now 16, Eckley is a three-time junior club champion, has represented Victoria on the national stage and Australia on the international stage, and treats the people at City West like an extended family.
“When I was little, I went to a school fete and I saw a taekwondo demonstration by City West Taekwondo,” she said. “ I found it really interesting, so I decided I wanted to try it.
“Since then I’ve been training with Frank De Pasquale, my head instructor.
“Ever since my first lesson … I just felt an instant connection with the sport and the club.”
Eckley kick-started her taekwondo career with three junior club champion awards.
The Hoppers Crossing resident has won more than 50 gold medals in competitions ranging from club to state to national – and even an Oceania title.
Her biggest achievements came at the Australian Open in 2015, at which she glistened in gold after a stellar performance, and last year, when she brought home gold from the Oceania championships in Fiji.
It was that Australian Open victory that confirmed in Eckley’s mind that she belonged in the elite company on the national stage.
“After I won that medal, it really helped me realise that I wanted to continue to push myself and to compete,” she said, “and that I wanted to travel and compete at some bigger competitions.”
Undoubtedly the high mark of Eckley’s career to date was her gold medal at the Oceania championships.
It was the first time Eckley had travelled overseas for competition and she took the event by storm.
“It was a very different experience going overseas to compete,” she said.
“I was in completely new surroundings and had different people with me, so it was very nerve-racking going all that way for a competition. It was a huge honour to be able to represent my country.”
Eckley, who receives tremendous support from her dad, Lee, and mum, Viola, has big goals.
She wants to return to the Oceania championships to defend her title.
The biggest event on Eckley’s radar is the world championships. Eckley will aim for 2018, but if that does not eventuate, the 2020 worlds will be right in her wheelhouse.
“I’ll keep working with my coach and my instructors to keep improving my strength and my athleticism,” she said.
Eckley recently returned from this year’s national championships in Bendigo after missing out on gold by “less than one-tenth of a point”.
She got to compete in pairs events with club mate James Hird, claiming silver, and with her sister, Keira, taking out bronze.
Eckley is the October nominee for the Don Deeble Rising Star award.
The award, hosted by the Sunshine Western Region Sports Club and
Star Weekly, recognises youth athletes from the western suburbs who have achieved outstanding results at state and or national levels.
Eckley will receive $1000, donated by the Yarraville Club Cricket Club. She will also receive other prizes to assist her in achieving her sports goals.