April 10, 2000

233F-020-020 A leg up: Photographed in Houston, March 2000

As she kicks-starts her Olympic career, this 17-year-old from Houston puts her best foot forward

Tae Kwon Do

Kay Poe is a pint-size powerhouse. At five-foot-three and 100 pounds, this Houston native is ranked number one in the world in the Olympic tae kwon do flyweight division –and at 17 she already has 10 years of experience under her black belt.

Poe finds the allure of tae kwon do in the mind-body connection. “It’s like chess,” she says. “You have to figure out what your opponent’s going to do.” In September she traveled to South Korea for four months of training to prepare for May’s team trial, which will determine whether she’ll be one of four United States tae kwon do Olympians. As a result, she is completing her senior year of high school by mail. “In a way, she gave up her adolescence, which I struggle with,” says her father, Ken Poe. “I ask her, ‘Don’t you want to go to the prom?’” But the focused teen has no regrets. “I’ve had to grow faster,” she says, “but the sacrifices have paid off.”

Sarah Saffian
Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark
Photo Editor Kathryn McCarver