A kickstart of confidence

Sophomore advances in taekwondo to earn her second-degree black belt


Photo courtesy of Camille O'Neill

While training after earning her second-degree black belt, sophomore Olivia O’neill stands in a defensive block position. Training at Omaha Blue Waves since she was five, O’neill is now training to achieve her third-degree belt, or the Sam Dan. “Practices, or classes, throughout the week focus on multiple different things,” O’neill said. “Weekday classes lean more towards traditional martial arts, in other words, everything you will need to advance to the next rank. Saturday classes consist of more extreme martial arts. This is reserved for tumbling classes, classes to make creative forms, and weapons classes.”

Samantha Vojslavek, Feature Story Editor

Since her early childhood years when she was managing her first year of elementary school, sophomore Olivia O’Neill was introduced to the sport of taekwondo. The mats inside her school’s complex, Omaha Blue Waves, became her place of escape and second home, at the age of 5. Just 10 short years later, O’Neill has advanced and earned the second-degree black belt.  

For advanced testing such as earning a second-degree black belt, she faced a three to five hour test. Each test involves various components that measure each individual’s skills. For O’Neill, she was examined in the categories of form, floor exercises, self-defense, specials (defensive techniques she had to perform off memory), sparring, breaking and teaching. Each test is designed to test one physically and mentally. 

O’Neill has worked immensely towards achieving her goals. Hours spent training during weekday and weekend classes, competitions, and teaching younger students have all been a part of how O’Neill has worked towards success. Earning this belt is a physical way to demonstrate to others of her achievements and show how it’s provided leverage for her to continue to improve as an athlete.

“This art has made me what I am today,” O’Neill said. “I went from being a shy, quiet 5-year-old to someone who is no longer afraid to carry myself with confidence. Without taekwondo, I wouldn’t have met some of the most important people in my life, and I wouldn’t be who I am today.” 

Many opportunities have surfaced as she continued to grow through her program. After progressing to her first advanced rank, the red belt, O’Neill was led to become an assistant instructor to teach younger kids once a week aside from her personal training classes. 

“Teaching has not only given me the opportunity to help others learn, but also to correct myself and my technique,” O’Neill said. “I also learned to be able to view things from many different perspectives. One teaching style may work for one kid and not another. A large part of teaching is adapting to the learning styles of different kids.” 

Finding a passion at a young age has created endless outlets of growth for Oneill and has helped her develop her personal traits outside of training. O’Neill’s family members have also taken note of this and watched her character build and thrive. Her sister, senior Camille O’Neill, has been alongside her every step of the way and shown ample support. 

“It has been fun to watch her progress over the years and develop a passion for the sport,” Camille O’Neil said. “I’ve seen her get out of her comfort zone a lot. At home she is really introverted, but when she is doing taekwondo, both teaching and learning, she is a whole new person.” 

Her mother, Jen O’Neill, has also been given the chance to view her daughter’s life being positively impacted by this sport. She has been able to see her daughter’s dedication and resilience shape who she is today.

I honestly didn’t anticipate it being a life-long sport for her when she started, but now I know it will always be a part of her life,” Jen O’Neill said. “At her school, students have to work very hard to advance in rank, so her second-degree blackbelt is a testament to a lot of community service, hours of work on her part attending classes and seminars, hours of competition and hours spent helping to teach others. She has learned that she can be quiet, confident and strong in her actions and beliefs and this sport has given her the space to grow into herself that way.” 

Outside of her teaching, Olivia O’Neill remains engaged as a learner to enhance her martial art skills so she is able to continue training and improve her abilities. She competes in competitions throughout the year, including Omaha National Martial Arts Championship in April where she volunteers and competes. 

Olivia O’Neill has taken note of how this sport has changed her life and plans to continue taekwondo and connect it to her future and stay in-touch with the relationships she’s formed through her greatest passion.