Breaking Boards & Barriers – Sentinel Colorado

After three years of hard work, an 18-year-old Colorado with Down syndrome broke stereotypes by earning his taekwondo black belt. ROCKY MOUNTAIN PBS

DAWN | IIn many ways, Nick Hansen is a typical 18-year-old high school graduate.

“The person I am is not a complicated guy. I’m just Nick,” Hansen said.

Babette Hansen, Nick’s mother, calls her son funny, quick-witted, strong and determined.

“I hate putting limits on Nick because he always proves me wrong,” she said. Nick has Down syndrome, a condition in which someone has an extra chromosome and affects 1 in 700 babies each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“When we found out Nick was going to have Down syndrome, we found out in utero,” Babette said, adding that many parents in this situation choose to have an abortion. “And I understand. It’s a very scary prospect of raising a child with special needs, and I can’t blame anyone for the decision he chooses to make. But for us, we chose to keep him, and that’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made because my life wouldn’t be as wonderful as it is without our son Nick.

Building confidence through martial arts these days, Nick spends much of his time at Kicks Martial Arts Studio in Aurora where, on August 13, he earned his black belt in taekwondo.

“It made me stronger with my muscles. It made them grow,” added Nick.

Victoria Wagner is the owner of the studio and Nick’s main instructor. Wagner says Nick got his black belt the same way someone without Down syndrome does.

After three years of hard work, an 18-year-old Colorado with Down syndrome broke stereotypes by earning his taekwondo black belt. ROCKY MOUNTAIN PBS

She said the process can be difficult for anyone, and that typically only one in 100 people achieve black belt status due to the difficulty of getting there.

“It requires a plethora of techniques for students to learn, including traditional forms and bases and kicks. There are boxing techniques, plank breaking, weapons, running, thousands of push-ups and burpees.

They have to do a hundred rounds of sparring and grappling.

“To get a black belt, it takes about 15 different ranks in the process, and all of those ranks take time,” Wagner said.

At the start of the pandemic, Nick started watching martial arts videos and decided he wanted to learn.

“My favorite thing about martial arts is that you get the confidence. Try hard and do your best. Focus your mind and your body,” he said.

Babette says she knew Kicks Martial Arts Studio because it’s near their home.

One of the reasons Nick loves him so much, she explained, is because he’s around neurotypical children and adults.

“It’s been such a good outlet for Nick because there are typical kids here and he likes to imitate their actions because he wants to be like them. I had an old friend who once told me that cream always rises to the top and I think Nick is cream; he rose to the top and did everything that was required and asked of him, and really enjoyed it,” she said .

Babette says the responsibility of driving Nick to so many martial arts classes over the past three years is worth it. Nick is the youngest of Babette’s five children and she calls him the shining light of the family.

“All of his siblings are overachievers, but he was never going to have a dim light. If you asked anyone in our family who our favorite is, we’d all say it’s Nick because no matter if we are having a good day or a bad day, he can always make us smile.

Wagner says it has been an honor to have Nick in his studio.“Nick absolutely killed it. He did everything he needed to do the same as a traditional student,” she said.

Nick is quite pragmatic when talking about what it took to earn his black belt over the past three years and hopes to one day teach others.

“You have to let your fear go. My own black belt is super awesome,” he added.

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