Cynthia Beverly-Haskins is like a lot of people her age. But unlike many other 65-year-olds, she can break a 1-inch-thick pinewood board with a well-placed kick. She even has the first one she snapped to prove it, stashed under her bed as a memento.
A third-degree black belt in Taekwondo, Beverly-Haskins said that her age is just a number — not an indicator of what she can accomplish, learn and experience. The only one who can stop her, she said, is herself — not two hip replacements, not retirement and not her upcoming birthday in May.
“You do not know what you cannot do unless you try, and the only person who can stop you is you,” she said.
The Edgewood resident originally became interested in Taekwondo after her husband began taking pilot lessons. She figured she, too, needed something to do and began taking classes at the U.S. Taekwondo Academy in Bel Air in 2014, keeping with her abiding love of Bruce Lee movies and martial arts, she said. That interest endured after she retired from her job as a senior loan officer in Baltimore City around 2019. Beyond Taekwondo, she also enjoyed walking and biking with her husband around the District of Columbia, visiting museums and parasailing.
“Bruce Lee movies were just awesome; I liked the martial arts, it was just beautiful,” Beverly-Haskins said, cheerfully. “I have all the DVDs.”
Beverly-Haskins was nervous at first, she said, but saw progress and felt a passion for the art. Sometimes she would practice her hand motions at stoplights after checking her surroundings to make sure no one was paying attention to her. The learning was daunting initially, but over time, the movements and stances came more naturally, her confidence grew and her clothes had to be altered because of the weight she lost.
Her husband Terry Haskins was probably the most cautious about her new pursuit, Beverly-Haskins said, but he came around to being her primary photographer, snapping photos at competitions to send to relatives in Kansas City, Missouri, who were supportive of his wife’s board-breaking escapades. Her children and grandchildren, too, are proud of her accomplishments, she said.
Haskins said his wife is not the person you would expect to hold a black-belt in Taekwondo or possess the abilities that she does. Beverly-Haskins has always been kindhearted, yet driven; when her hip was first replaced, she did not use a walker or cane, and some cautioned her that she was moving too fast after the operation, he said. That uniqueness is part of what makes her his “best friend” and wife of over 20 years.
“She is kind of extraordinary,” Haskins said. “She doesn’t act like a person who is 65 years old.”
When Beverly-Haskins first started practicing Taekwondo, Haskins worried she could hurt herself, but after seeing her in action, he is confident that she can handle whatever is thrown at her.
“It is like a religion with her; it is something you cannot take away from her now,” he said.
Beverly-Haskins heads to the U.S. Taekwondo Academy in Bel Air three times a week to hone her skills, talents that have earned her recognition from Gov. Larry Hogan when she won the Governor’s Cup — a Taekwondo competition — in 2019. She placed first in her age group in all three categories and took home the trophy on her 20th anniversary.
“Even to think about it I get goose bumps,” she said.
That is not the only trophy she has won, either. More than a dozen stand in her home; at least one is taller than she is.
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Youngshin Jennifer Chang-Pasion, owner of the U.S. Taekwondo Academy in Bel Air, said many of her adult students come as a package deal; they see their children enjoying taekwondo lessons and opt to try it themselves. But Beverly-Haskins came “out of the blue,” she said. While initially nervous, today she shows up to classes in a matching headband and mask — a consequence of COVID-19 — and freshly ironed uniform, ready to learn. Students her age are rare.
Chang-Pasion said Beverly-Haskins is humble about her skills, determined and always willing to learn; her continual drive to learn is inspiring in a year-round sport that requires great commitment. Her progress, too, has been stunning. Reaching the level Beverly-Haskins has is no small feat, she said.
“She is who I aspire to be — to be a forever student,” Chang-Pasion said.
Taekwondo is ranked according to the “dan” system, Chang-Pasion explained, meaning there are a variety of colored belts before black, and then several degrees of black belt in the art. It takes about three years to make it through the colored belts and reach first dan — which ascends in rank from first to ninth dan.
Beverly-Haskins said her goal is to become a master — starting at fourth dan — but the experience of testing herself and making friends has been its own reward. She said the camaraderie between fellow students and teachers has been excellent; moreover, it is a place where she feels like she fits in.
The confidence she built through her training, her peers’ and trainers’ encouragement and the things she learned have made taekwondo a pursuit she would recommend to those interested, she said. Her husband and coaches have noticed changes, too, in the way she carries herself — confidence that will carry her forward in her training, regardless of her age.
“I feel so much better about myself; there is nothing that can stop me unless I choose to stop myself,” she said.