I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000 after many years of varying symptoms and tests. Like every newly diagnosed patient, I read everything about MS that I could lay my hands on. We had three young children - how would we tell them that their mum had an incurable medical condition?
In May of 2004, when Thomas was 9 and Rhiannon was 11 we took them along to try a Tae Kwon-Do session in Monmouth. The instructor Master Tony Farr nagged us to have a go, but I told him that there was no way I’d be able to do it as I had MS; I could barely stand up or walk in a straight line, let alone coordinate my hands and feet!
By mid-summer, Master Farr had five members of the Penman family in his club. As well as my husband Ken and myself, we’d persuaded our eldest daughter, 13-year-old Anwen, to join in.
Master Farr persevered with me and I thought, “if I can do this for a year, I’ll be happy.” We were all doing so well; the kids were more confident, more focussed at school and keeping fit. Ken and I were fitter than we’d ever been.
The first Penman black belts
In April of 2008 Rhi and Thom saw all their hard work rewarded when they became black belts. At this time, I was out of training as I was expecting our fourth baby. This was the beginning of a very long spell of being out of action as I suffered with extreme sickness throughout the pregnancy, culminating in a planned home birth becoming an emergency caesarean!
The following year, Ken gained his black belt. Then in early summer 2009, Master Farr offered us the chance to take over one of the clubs in his area.
Starting the Tae Kwon-Do school
We launched Cinderford School of Tae Kwon-Do in June 2009. As I wasn’t yet a black belt I took on the role of club secretary and I'd help to teach when I could. Anwen, Rhi and Thom would join us when time allowed, to help out with classes. Seren was always present in the pushchair, chanting commands in Korean! It was a real family-run club.
I finally got back into training at the end of 2009, after a nasty relapse. I started to help out more at lessons again. I vowed to get my black belt - 'This Thing’ wasn’t going to beat me!
MS was laughing at me
2010 wasn’t a good year; MS was laughing at me. My ambition of getting my black belt seemed like it was out of reach. I’d been training in TKD for 6 years and had been one grade away since 2007.
In April, we had reason to celebrate again, as Anwen passed her grading and became the latest black belt addition to the Penman family. I still wasn’t back in training; I felt as if I was being left behind. I started training again at Christmas, more determined than ever to keep well and go for the ultimate goal.
My black belt grading
Finally, February 2011 arrived, and I asked Master Farr if he thought I was ready for my grading. I was so nervous in the run up to grading day in April, worried that I’d go into relapse and would have to withdraw. The wait for the results is only a couple of days, but such a long wait.
I was so relieved when I had the news from Master Farr that I’d passed! I was a 1st Dan in Tae Kwon-Do; it had taken me 7 years, but I was a black belt! We were the first family Master Farr had taken through to black belts. Another proud moment!
Cinderford School of Tae Kwon-Do has gone from strength to strength and in 2011 we opened Mitcheldean School of Tae Kwon-Do, followed by our club in Shirenewton in 2012.
Sponsored kick for MS
On 7th November, Shirenewton TKD will celebrate its 4th birthday. We’re 'Kicking MS' with a sponsored kick and Being Bold in Blue. The 13th November will see Cinderford and Mitcheldean join forces to Kick MS. My husband Ken, three of our students and one of the dads have put themselves forward to have their chests waxed, courtesy of Sarah Richards from Your Balance for Life. Sarah has also offered a voucher to be raffled. We’re also running a ‘How Many Sweets in the Jar?’ competition.
Ken and I are now both 2nd Dans; Ken is the instructor and I’m assistant instructor. Anwen, Rhiannon and Thom (now all in their 20s) still help when time allows, and Seren, just 8, is halfway to black belt.
12 years since starting TKD, I’m still on my feet. I have such a lot to thank TKD for; I truly believe it’s been a wonderful form of therapy for me.