Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Mendy Prince Challenge: Live the Tenets

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 AustinTexas, 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.

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 Mount Ranier, and radiated an unending stream of gratitude and hope.

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?


  1. You have me in tears. Mendy was a dear friend of mine, my wife, and my friends. She was everything you say, and she deserves everything you gave her. She earned it. I am the owner and operator of One World Karate - a martial arts school for special needs children, and Mendy was a vocal supporter of my dream. She was an inspiration. Thank you for what you have done.

    1. Thanks, Daniel, for your kind words. Mendy was indeed one of a kind. Do you live in Austin? We should meet.

  2. That was beautiful. Thank you so much - you captured the very essence of her and I believe Jim and Becky will treasure the belt. Mendy is a treasured friend, and I know she would have been proud of this gift. Sincerely, Kira Meyerson

    1. Thank you, Kira. I'll do my best to make Mendy proud.

  3. Cathy you are an amazing wordsmith. What a beautiful legacy for your dear friend. May she RIP, and may you find Peace in the love that surrounds you both.

    1. Kyoshi, you're so kind. Thank you for being one of MY examples.

  4. This brought both Logan and myself to tears. What an amazing woman! I wish we had had the honor of knowing her. Indeed, a hard black belt to follow. May her memory be a blessing. --the Burt family

    1. Laura, you probably passed Mendy in the Tao of Texas MAI lobby, or even sat next to her at some point just before Logan's class. No matter. Now you REALLY know her. Go forth and inspire.

    2. Ugh. Sniffling at my desk. That was beautiful. And I am sorry for our loss, though not sorry that she is no longer having to hurt and struggle any longer. I'm sure she's up there flying side kicks through the clouds in her new black belt. That was a great gesture, Ms. Chapaty.

  5. Looking forward to speaking with you at your convenience. Avital will call you to set up a time. In the meantime check out one of our black belts http://youtu.be/mvuEZoR1IAE
    Looking forward, Elimelech Goldberg from Kids Kicking Cancer

    1. Looking forward to speaking to you as well!