In the back of the room, freshman Anya Sagovnovic practices her techniques, preparing herself for the rigorous training ahead. The energy in the room is strong from the moment her eyes meet the punching bag. An overwhelming rush washes over her as she uses all her might to strike the bag.

“My favorite thing about it [taekwondo] is the intensity that everyone has,” Sagovnovic said. “It’s amazing to see how much I’ve developed over time and the memories I have made all over the world. Also, you’ll be surprised with the things you can do and how far you can really push yourself.”

Sagovnovic has spent 11 years practicing and perfecting all types of kicks, punches and yells. She is a third “Dan,” which is a third degree black belt.

“Anya has never been majorly injured but she’s had a couple of concussions and a handful of hospital visits,” Vesna Sagovnovic, Anya’s mother said. “It scares me to death when she’s hurt but to see how far she has come is amazing.”

Thanks to all of her training and practices, her efforts have not gone to waste; her dedication to the sport earned her a spot on the U.S.A. Taekwondo Olympic team in 2011 and a gold medal at an Olympic event this past September in the Pan American championships.

“Getting to the Olympics requires so much dedication, it’s unreal,” Sagovnovic said. “A selection process occurs and there’s different tournaments that you have to win in order to be selected to be on the team.”

For the Pan American Championships in Mexico, Sagovnovic had to compete in five matches against a bracket of 37 opponents.  

“The venue where the competition was held is huge,” Sagovnovic said. “I’ve been to many other venues for competitions though, so this one wasn’t as mind blowing.”

Sagovnovic used a great deal of mental and physical strength for the matches that she faced. All of the matches were fought throughout a one-week period, with one held each day.

“I was so excited to be moving up in the bracket,” Sagovnovic said. “However, I was trying to put all that energy on being focused for my next match.”

For the final match, Sagovnovic had to challenge a world champion from Peru.

“My heart was about to beat out of my chest and my vision was getting blurred and I swear I couldn’t hear any of the noises or the screams,” Sagovnovic said. “I was ready and I knew I was ready, it was just pure exhilaration. The match began and I knew it was all up to me.”

Sagovnovic won the match and came home with new friends and memories, as well as a gold medal.

“It felt absolutely amazing to beat a world champion,” Sagovnovic said. “I won by a lot of points; it was unbelievable to come home with another gold medal.”

Sagovnovic continues to travel all over the world to compete with international opponents from Mexico and Germany to Trinidad and Spain. One of Sagovnovic’s goals is to go to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

“It’s a bunch of mixed emotions because no one likes constant hours of training, or the feeling of losing and I honestly hate dieting,” Sagovnovic said. “But when you have a medal around your neck, it demonstrates that all the suffering was worth it.”