Tae kwon do champions prepare for Junior Olympics
By GREG JOHNSON
Published on Saturday, January 8, 2011 9:35 PM AKST
WASILLA — Matthew McConarty’s engine runs on permanent overdrive.
In the classroom, the Valley 15-year-old maintains a 4.0 grade point average and aspires to attend Stanford University. Outside academics, he spends several hours a day training in tae kwon do at home and at Primal Martial Arts in Wasilla. And if you happen to be matched up against McConarty on the mat, watch out for his best move.
What the teen playfully calls “the shadow of death” is actually a roundhouse kick, “which is a fairly basic kick, but it’s fast.”
Matthew McConarty and Jesse Shearer are two of the top tae kwon do competitors for their age in the state. McConarty recently won gold in the 14- to 17-year-old age bracket at the Global Open in Aneheim, Calif., then followed up with a silver medal in the adult bracket, competing against fighters ages 18 to 32. Shearer won his age group, 12 to 13, at the Global Open and was third in the adult bracket. (ROBERT DeBERRY/Frontiersman)
Fast enough, apparently, to make the martial arts student a feared and respected competitor in his sport. McConarty recently won gold in the 14- to 17-year-old age bracket at the Global Open in Aneheim, Calif., then followed up with a silver medal in the adult bracket, competing against fighters ages 18 to 32.
For the Mat-Su Central School ninth-grader, performing at a high level in the Korean national sport is a passion that begins at home. His mother, Lisa McConarty, is an instructor at Primal, as is Jay Shearer, father of 13-year-old training partner Jesse Shearer. Matthew and Jesse consider themselves brothers and pull no punches while sparring during a Saturday morning workout.
“We help each other out a lot,” Matthew said. “Especially with speed. He’s really fast, and yeah, we go at it. We smash.”
While Matthew’s considered one of the best young tae kwon do competitors in the country, Jesse isn’t far behind. He won his age group, 12 to 13, at the Global Open and was third in the adult bracket.
“It’s really important to have that (caliber of opponent) to train with, because you need somebody pushing you,” Matthew said.
Jesse admits that, most times, Matthew will eventually gain the upper hand when they spar, but he makes his brother work for it.
“Since he’s my brother, we fight a lot and it’s pretty good for me,” he said, adding he’s not intimidated going against older and larger opponents. “I’m always willing to fight up.”
That’s the attitude Matthew took into the Global Open when entering the adult bracket.
“That first match I expected to be pretty hard,” he said.
He fought an internationally ranked man who, at age 25, had 11 years of experience on him. Beating that opponent “boosted my confidence a lot,” he said. “Then I fought Gigantor. The guy was huge, like 6-7, just huge. When you fight taller people like that you have to get in close, because you score with your kicks.”
While Matthew has skill and talent honed by about seven years of training — now he trains several hours a day — his real advantage is mental, said tae kwon do master Jay Shearer.
“The biggest thing about Matthew is he absolutely never quits,” he said. “It’s all heart. He’s one of those kids that, for example, gets a unicycle and doesn’t quit on it until he learns it.”
While he had confidence Matthew would do well competing against adults sometimes more than twice his age, Jay said he was surprised when he advanced all the way to the finals.
“That’s unheard of,” he said. “I figured that would be a great way for him to get some experience and see some things (the other fighters did). Doing that well, it was a pretty big deal.”
And Jesse “is right there behind” Matthew, he said.
Matthew first got into tae kwon do at age 7 “mostly for fun,” but soon realized he had a talent for the sport. “My first juniors I won a bronze, and I placed again the next year. My goal now is to get on the Stanford national team, and I’m trying to get on the national team right now.”
Both teens are shooting for gold at the Junior Olympics in San Jose, Calif., this summer. With hundreds of tae kwon do competitors, that won’t be an easy task, but the pair are earning a reputation as fierce fighters on the mat, Jay said.
In fact, in many state events, when coaches or parents see Matthew or Jesse on the bracket, the competition pulls out, Jay said.
Eventually, both teens aspire to earn full-ride tae kwon do scholarships to Stanford, and perhaps someday compete at the Olympics.
“That’s what (they’re) shooting for — the Olympics,” Jay said. “Matthew’s already one of the top fighters in America, and because of that, it’s a very realistic goal.”
But first, Matthew and Jesse had to get past each other in Saturday’s workout. Matthew didn’t connect with the “shadow of death,” but got in the final blow when the sparring session ended abruptly with a kick to a cup-less groin.
Jesse Shearer, left, moves back as Matthew McConarty tries to connect his 'shadow of death' roundhouse kick during a practice session Saturday at Primal Marshal Arts in Wasilla. (ROBERT DeBERRY/Frontiersman)
Matthew McConarty and Jesse Shearer practice sparring Saturday at Primal Marshal Arts in Wasilla. (ROBERT DeBERRY/Frontiersman)