Nothing holds him down

Curtis Smallwood earns black belt, despite early health complications

John Browne
Published on May 5, 2007
Curtis Smallwood

His mom remembers him as a very shy, nervous, timid three-year-old who was always hanging on to her leg, but she cried the day he was awarded his black belt in tae kwon do.

Curtis Smallwood loves to play several sports as a healthy 13-year-old, but there was a time when competing in anything physical was unlikely as he was born with a mild form of spina bifida.

He was born with a small hole in the base of his spine, with his nerve endings all entangled, causing growth complications and nerve damage, explained his mom, Sue Smallwood.

Hes doing great now, she said, but when he was first born, doctors said it was touch and go whether he was going to walk. When he began to grow up, we kept him active and put him in a variety of sports.

Slow start

She recalls taking Curtis to tae kwon do class as a three-year-old and he refused to go out on the floor for the first three weeks.

After about three or four weeks, he stood up at the back of the class and started to do a few moves, said Smallwood.

As the months went by, he kept getting better and better. Hes come a long way.

She said she saw things change in her son when he was five or six, after hed been in tae kwon do a few years.

He seemed to gain confidence. There were a lot of little things that helped bring him out of his shell, she said.

And so the tears ran the night he finally earned his black belt.

It was so emotional, said Smallwood, because I remember this tiny, little mite running around in his bare feet and now hes getting a black belt. He had to come over to me to tell me not to cry, she said with a laugh.

Curtis, a Grade 8 student at Beaconsfield Junior High, plays basketball, softball, soccer, street hockey and tennis these days along with his regular activities with tae kwon do.

It feels good to earn it, Curtis said of his first-degree black belt. It took a long time to get it.

Moments of doubt

There were times, he admitted, over the past couple of years, when he wondered why he stayed involved in tae kwon do because it was taking him so long to advance. Now he believes it was worth the wait and it means a lot to him.

Curtis said he likes the self-defence aspect of tae kwon do, because when he gets older, I will able to protect myself when Im out around and stuff. Its given me self-confidence.

He also likes the testings and competition involved with tae kwon do and the fact that, as an individual sport, its all on your shoulders.

He said hes made a lot of friends in the sport, some of whom hes known since he started to train.

He hopes to stay involved long enough to get his third or fourth degree black belt and stick with the sport after that just to stay in good shape.

Curtis gives a lot of the credit to tae kwon do teacher Gloria Hanlon.

Shes been great. Shes really motivated me to get my black belt and shes the one who is pretty much keeping me in it, he said.

Hanlon Connection Tae Kwon-Do Academy in St. Johns is where Curtis trains and competes.

When he first came to the academy, said Hanlon, he had a prognosis as not being able to do this or that and he sure proved everybody wrong.

He had some physical problems, but he stuck with it and he did it. We dont give out black belts here automatically after three years.

With my school, you have to earn it. That means at least four and a half years before you get your black belt.

It took Curtis longer, but he remained dedicated and focused. I wouldnt praise a child unless he deserved it and he deserves it.

Curtis said he may cut back on tae kwon do to once a week (from twice a week) because he has so many other activities he is involved with.

Standing on the sidelines, in sport or life, is no longer an option for him.