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Athlete of the Week: Leslie Kwan

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Photo credits: Misho Shaltout and Richard Gregory Fejedelem

When did you start wushu?

I began learning Wushu when I was 10 years old at the Calgary Tai Chi and Martial Arts College under the teachings of Master Geng Cai. A fun fact about myself is I was born in Toronto. I actually did tai chi for two years before I moved to Calgary and began my Wushu training. My career in competing did not start until 2002 where I traveled to Vancouver with my team for my first ever Wushu competition in the annual West Coast Can-Am championships.

What is the next competition you look forward to?

The next competition I will be attending will be the 14th World Wushu Championships being held in Kazan, Russia. This international competition is held at the end of September as a member of the Canadian National Wushu Team. The following year I would love to attend the Pan-American Games in 2018 and qualify for the Taolu World Cup again.

What is one experience you remember the most?

There are too many experiences for me to choose just one. One of the most memorable experiences I have is when my Calgary team and I traveled to Wuhan, Hubei, to train with the provincial team in 2010. We were attending the 4th World Traditional Wushu Championships that year and had spent a full week in Wuhan living the life of an everyday Wushu athlete. This experience was one of the most physically exhausting experiences in my life. If I were given a choice, I would do it again. The feelings I experienced when I stood on the podium winning a silver medal at Taiji Worlds was amazing.

My best experiences are making new friends at every competition I go to. The Wushu community is incredibly close and I feel everyone involved is able to bond over the passion we all have over the sport. I hope the spirit continues to grow!

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What is the philosophy towards your wushu work?

You have to win against yourself. I believe that each person is different in their approach to training and competing. My approach is to perform better than the last time I competed. I’m in constant competition with myself. If I perform worse in my next competition than my last one, my thought is that I did not improve. Every athlete should set goals for themselves for each competition, plan their training to match that goal and after the competition ask yourself, “Did I achieve my goal I wanted?”. If you were successful that means you put in the necessary effort, if not, go back to the drawing board. Be better than you were the day before is probably the best way to describe my philosophy.

In a team environment, what role do you normally play?

I’ve definitely learned to take up more of a leadership role in most team environments. I can attribute to my Sifu and all the experiences I have earned in Wushu. From an early age my Sifu put me into a leadership position as a leader of the classes that I took. Eventually I started teaching classes too. Wushu has helped me develop a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities .I am able to translate my confidence into everyday life.

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Explain your injury and how did it affect you emotionally and mentally?

The ACL tear for me was a huge shock, before I suffered this injury, I only had endured minor. Ankle rolls, pulled hamstring among other minor injuries were more common for me before. I was inexperienced at the time with strength training and had no real information about how this injury could affect me. Naturally, I thought that this injury would end my Wushu career. Initially I didn’t consider surgery because it was about 8 months before Canadian Team Trials that year. I was left it alone and began to do minor strength training and I actually recovered very quickly. To the point where I believed I could be ready and in shape by the time Canadian Team Trials came around. A month prior to team selections, I had injured my knee one more time. This injury I felt the most defeated.

I began competing at nationals in 2005; Canadian Team Trials was being held every 2 years and there was a lot of time improvement between each competition. I sat out 2007, competed in 2009 and made the National B Team, 2011 was supposed to be the year I would have officially made the national A team for Team Canada. I was plagued with injury instead competed without enough nandu. At this point, I became very frustrated in myself and actually left Wushu for about a year and a half. My thought was at the time that my Wushu Career was over, I was uneducated about an ACL injury and what I could do to make it better, so instead I turned to a different sport.

I started pursuing basketball which was actually my second favourite sport. For a year and a half I trained with a former PBA professional basketball player, Kelvin Dela Pena. Coach Pena taught me a lot about strength training and rehab for my knee. In a short period of time, I recovered so well that I was able to play basketball and practice Wushu pretty painlessly. In the summer of 2013, I met up with my Sifu and gave him an update of what I had been doing for the past year and a half about my knee. Long story short, I decided to compete for Wushu again in 2013. Incredibly unsure of what to expected, I went into the 2013 National Team Trials with a very heavy heart, because I still had a very high expectation of myself even though I hadn’t been training for a year and a half. With my heart racing before my first event, I walked up onto that carpet and left it all out there. Two long days of competition and I finally achieved my goal of making it onto the National A Team for Canada. I finally had an opportunity to compete among the best Wushu athletes at the World Championships.

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I was a member of the Junior Canadian National Wushu team for the very First Junior World Wushu Championships held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It seems I was fated to make the team in 2013 as the 12th World Wushu Championships were being held in Kuala Lumpur as well. The competition ended with great results as my teammates and I were all able to finish in the Top 10 in at least one of our events. I placed 8th in Jianshu that year, which also tied with my placing for Jianshu at the First World Junior Wushu Championships in 2006.

After this competition, I was ecstatic with being able to compete at worlds, but disappointed because of my knee, I was limited to what I could perform for all my routines. I decided later during the year to get ACL reconstruction surgery, at this point I had every intention of competing again so it only made sense for me to get it done. My surgery was scheduled for April 2014, this meant that after surgery I would have roughly a year and 4 months to rehab and get myself into shape for 2015 team trials. It was a gruelling year and 4 months, having to re-learn how to walk, building my strength up from nothing and trying to get myself ready for team trials, but I accomplished my goal. I was finally able to perform my routines almost as comfortably and effortlessly as I did before the injury. This gave me so much confidence that I went into 2015 team trials with no fear, I was able to perform well enough to place 1st overall in the male division, which also gave me another opportunity to represent Canada at the 13th World Wushu Championships.

The 13th World Wushu Championships was a great experience with half of the Canadian team coming from the school I trained at. It felt like going into battle with a family I grew up with. Coming into this competition I was much more confident because my knee felt great and I felt like I drastically improved from the last competition. With that said, everybody else also improved drastically! I ended up placing 10th in the biggest event in Wushu (ChangQuan) and 7th in QiangShu. Despite the great results that I received, I still felt a bit…unfulfilled. I realized that I still wasn’t happy with my routine (my nandu specifically). So after this competition I decided that I train hard so that I could either get my 720 XFJ back or my split landing back. I constantly watch my routines over and over and critique myself, and no matter what, I just wasn’t satisfied with not being able to do the nandu I trained so hard for in the past.

2016 was a bit of a break year for me. I competed in Tai Chi and made the National Tai Chi Team, competed in Poland for the 2nd World taijiquan Championships and earned a silver medal for Canada for 56 style Taiji Quan. Being a medalist at big international competition like that sure makes you feel good about yourself!

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Canadian National Wushu Team Trials in 2017. I had decided that this year would be my last year competing at Team Trials before I move on to another project. This is the year where I either get my 720 XFJ or Split landing back. Then three years out from surgery, three competitions since then, I felt great. My knee hadn’t been giving me many issues anymore. We began to prepare for team trials and I decided that I would put my 360 XFJ split landing back into my routine. It took me a while to get it down because mentally there was always that fear of getting injured again, but I didn’t let that stop me, I was going to go for it no matter what. A month prior to competition…my luck had struck out and I mildly sprained my knee on the split landing. Luckily nothing was torn and I was able to get back into training a week after, but to be on the safe side I stopped practicing the split landing for the rest of that month.

With Team Trials finally within our grasp, I had injured myself twice in one month prior to it. One hamstring pull and one knee sprain. But I still believed that I would be able to do what I originally set out to do. First event of the competition…Jianshu, I had no time to think about it or worry about it. I landed it during warm ups, I can do it during my whole routine. Adrenaline kicked in, and I finally did it at competition again, I hit my split landing hit all my other nandu. It was an incredible feeling, weight off my shoulders kind of feeling, just knowing that I was able to do it again. A bit out of practice though so I messed up during my changquan, but that’s okay, I was still able to perform well enough in both Jianshu and Qiangshu to make the team again. It took me a total of 3 years to technically get back to where I originally was in terms of comfort within all my routines, I’m just happy that I’m finally there. It takes HUGE mental fortitude to be able to come back from a big injury like an ACL tear, and I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced it. This injury was a blessing in disguise, it forced me to take care of my body better, it helped me learn and experience training from a completely different angle, it made me much tougher and although it was painful, it has given me everlasting memories.

I have to thank all my teammates and my coach for being so emotionally supportive from the time I got injured, to when I left, openly accepting me when I came back, and continuing to push me and support me in improving myself in every facets of life and not just Wushu. I couldn’t have come back stronger without their support! Especially my girlfriend, she has been my backbone for the last 3 and half years and supported me in every decision that I have made in regards to Wushu.

Is there anything unique about you that you would like viewers to know?

I can dunk.

Justine Agaloos is a National USA Wushu Taolu Judge and is on the 2017 U.S.A. Traditional Wushu Team. While working full-time in technology, Agaloos is also Masters of Science in Information Systems in Boston, MA. She also has a Masters Degree in Instructional Technology. With her extra time, Agaloos currently travels to domestic and international wushu tournaments. She is also the current Web Content and Social Media Manager for Harvard Wushu.