My Dear Students:
Please give a fabulous, raucous, and insanely jubilant welcome to Tao of Texas Martial Arts Institute’s newest black belt—Ms. Mendy Prince.
Don’t remember seeing her on the mat? Her name doesn’t ring a bell? That’s O.K. I have good reason to promote this woman to the rank of Honorary 1st Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo. Let me tell you why.
I’ve been a Taekwondo instructor for 12 years. In that time, I’ve taught hundreds of students ages 3-63 "the way of the hand and foot" through courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. But also in that time, I’ve promoted only six students to black belt.
Mendy is lucky No. 7.
A few years ago, a petite young lady strolled into Tao of Texas Martial Arts in
with her girlfriend, whose 5-year-old son had just enrolled
in my Tiny Texans class. She looked familiar, and later I remembered that she
had worked with my partner, Marianna, at Animal Trustees of Austin. Austin, Texas,
Even back then, I could tell that Mendy’s thin, slight build was an illusion; she had a powerful presence. Anyone could feel it.
Mendy never joined Tao of Texas MAI as a Taekwondo student. Instead, she sat on the benches near the open-air dojang’s garage door, gleefully taking on the role of a Tiny Texans groupie. She smiled, laughed, and quietly cheered as she watched 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds running, jumping, kicking, and punching.
Then in December 2010, her girlfriend and son began coming to class without her. I learned that Mendy had had a radial neck dissection—a fancy way of saying that lymph nodes, muscles, nerves, tonsils, and various other tissues were removed from her neck. Multiple biopsies were performed, and the diagnosis was grim: Stage 4 cancer.
She went through radiation and chemotherapy. Friends in
Austin buzz-cut their
heads, and other supporters started a Chip-In online account and held a poker
party to raise money for the thousands of dollars in medical bills that wouldn’t be
covered by insurance.
Mendy fought HARD, enduring more surgical procedures (which I won’t detail), and for a while, it seemed she just might get ahead of this ugly and unforgiving disease.
She eventually moved back home in
Washington state to be with her family, and
via Facebook, she chronicled every step of her journey. Through social
media, she accounted for her best and worst days. She changed her profile status
to reflect her new position at “Enjoying My Life”. She shared pictures and gems
of wisdom from inspirational web sites, posted great photos of family
gatherings and of a snow-capped , and radiated an
unending stream of gratitude and hope. Mount
Perseverance was her mantra.
She suffered a recurrence of cancer, but she never gave up.
She had good and bad days—days of high joy and nights of skull-crushing headaches no medication would relieve—but she never gave up.
She suffered more pain than any woman—anyone—should know, but she never gave up.
Along the way, a few friends left her side, unable to emotionally cope with being there for someone fighting cancer. This broke Mendy’s heart—she shared this, too, on Facebook—but she never gave up.
Doctor’s gave her bad news upon bad news, but she never gave up.
She went through more chemotherapy until her body couldn’t take it anymore, but she—her spirit—never gave up.
Before me on Facebook, her fighting spirit grew larger by the day.
On Friday, her friend Fawn posted a note on Mendy’s Facebook page saying that Mendy was losing her battle with cancer.
“She is the best fighter I’ve ever seen,” Fawn wrote. “She is a heavyweight. A champion.”
I had to agree, and I knew what I needed to do.
So on Friday, June 22, 2012, I did something I never thought I’d do—and I did it without my master instructor’s permission:
On behalf of Tao of Texas Martial Arts and the World Taekwondo Federation, I hereby award an Honorary 1st Dan Black Belt to Ms. Mendy Prince. She receives this award in honor of her tremendous courage, perseverance, and indomitable spirit. She has generously and selflessly inspired hundreds of people in her fight with cancer, and has made the world an immeasurably better place.
Next, I silently prayed, “Mendy, you may lay down your sword whenever you’re ready. I’ll continue your fight for you. You did good, girl. You won.”
Mendy died on Monday, 90 minutes after I ordered her embroidered black belt.
Although I’m proud of the students I’ve promoted in the past, Mendy was extraordinary. You see, she had a Rocky Balboa heart, timeless hope, ageless wisdom, and a soft and serene smile amid the worst of circumstances. She didn’t just practice the five tenets of Taekwondo—courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. She LIVED the tenets.
Her parting message was “I’m not done.” (I told you that perseverance was her mantra.)
Well, guys, you know what this means:
If Mendy’s not done, than neither are we. Let her spirit and memory live on—not just on a certificate and a two-inch-wide, gold-embroidered black belt (which her parents will receive in about a month)—but in the hearts and minds of all who, like her, seek to do great things with whatever time we have left on this Earth.
Mendy was a warrior beyond words. She will be a hard black belt to follow.
Are you ready to step up?