Thomas Middlecott Academy, Kirton, makes no secret of its pride in ex-student Megan Featherstone (16) as she makes her assault on becoming the best taekwondo player in the world.
Julia Polley, principal of Thomas Middlecott Academy, said: “We believe it is important to support and nurture the talents of all our students and we worked closely with Megan to balance her school work and training as finding that healthy balance is key to getting to where you want to be.
“I am very proud of Megan because she is a fantastic example of a student who puts her all into everything she does and I have every confidence that she will continue to work hard, be committed and, above all, practice to achieve in winning many international medals for herself.”
But some people have mistakenly believed that Megan of Amber Hill, near Boston, is already a taekwondo success story because of her striking resemblance to both 2012 Olympic -57kg gold meadallist Jade Jones and reigning +73kg world champion Bianca Walkden.
Megan said: “Whenever I’m at a tournament abroad, I get mistaken for Jade or Bianca.
“I’ve had the chance to train with them and I’ve learned so many different tactics.
“But I really look up to Aaron Cook (former GB player who now fights for Moldova) because he’s a very different player and inspirational in what he does.”
Megan’s dreams of emulating Jade and Bianca suffered a setback recently when toe ligament damage kept her out of the sport for four months.
Jason Featherstone, Megan’s dad who runs the Quest Taekwondo Club in Boston, said: “She was doing a lot of in-water training to put the minimum amount of weight on her feet.
“But Megan kept looking at the rankings and seeing her name go down the list, so it’s been hard to keep her morale.
There’s a lot of aggression involved in taekwondo and you’re nasty towards the other person on the mat because you want the pointsCommonwealth Taekwondo Championships bronze medallist Megan Featherstone
“However, I tell Megan that whilst Jade and Bianca have got the dream, she’s looking for the dream and now she’s had the toe ligament operation, we can look at rebuilding her fitness and building the ankles up without putting pressure on the toe.”
Megan’s taekwondo journey started as a four-year-old when she took up karate after encouragement from her dad.
Jason said: “I wanted Megan to do something positive, instead of just sitting in front of the TV so I took her along to a karate class in Boston and she took to it straight away.
“It was a lifestyle change for Megan because her instructor helped with the gym work and nutrition and she’s never looked back.
“As the coach at Quest Taekwondo in Boston, I’m the one who gets shouted at because Megan is dedicated to getting to Tokyo 2020.”
With perfect timing, Megan made the switch from karate to taekwondo when the sport was about to take off in terms of public consciousness in the UK when the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games made household names out of Aaron Cook and bronze medallist Sarah Stevenson who became -67kg world champion in 2011.
“There’s a lot of aggression involved in taekwondo and you’re nasty towards the other person on the mat because you want the points,” Megan said.
“It’s one of these sports where you can never give up, but you also need a strategy of how to get the points.
“I’ve got a lot better at ring management, my defensive cover is good and I don’t get that many points scored against me.
“But I’m also a very aggressive fighter - sometimes too aggressive - because it intimidates my opponents and I tend to leave everything on the mat.”
Motivated by her parents, Megan made swift progress in taekwondo to the point where she achieved the coveted black belt in March 2013.
At the same time, the teenager was competing for Thomas Middlecott Academy in athletics - sprinting and javelin - before a fateful call from GB Taekwondo changed Megan’s outlook forever.
Jason said: “One day, I got a telephone call from the development people at GB Taekwondo telling me to get Megan to Bradford by 6pm.
“Megan was given a trial in front of a development officer who was writing down notes and at the end of it, my daughter got in.”
Megan added: “Because I come from a punching background, I’ve always had the basic kicks and blows in my armoury.
“But I think GB Taekwondo saw that when I’m on the mat, I hate my opponent and we want to knock each other’s heads off.
“However as a person, I’m good friends with all of my main rivals.”
If Megan’s spirits were lifted during her injury lay-off by GCSE grades good enough to get her onto a sport and exercise science course at Boston College, there was even better news from Lincolnshire Sport which shortlisted her for the Young Sportswoman of the Year prize at the Lincolnshire Sports Awards on November 5.
“I have to say a big thank you to Mum and Dad because taekwondo isn’t the cheapest sport so I’m grateful they are there to support me,” Megan said.
“When I was at Thomas Middlecott Academy, I found it very difficult to balance my school work with taekwondo.
“I thought my sport and ambitions in it were more important, so I trained whenever I could and fitted in my revision around that.
“But I had a lot of help from the school where I was able to do extra hours of training and the people at Boston College are really supportive as well.”
Since turning to taekwondo full-time just over three years ago, Megan has won gold at the British International Open, competed in the GB demonstration team at the Manchester Grand Prix and won bronze at the Commonwealth Taekwondo Championships in Edinburgh, all three successes coming last year.
“It was a great honour to fight for England in Edinburgh,” Megan said.
“I came away from it with lots of positives and also plenty of things to work on back in training.”
This year Megan has trained with an elite South Korean junior squad, one of just seven girls to do so, reached the quarter-finals of the Dutch Open where she narrowly missed out on a bronze medal and won gold at the International Taekwondo Championships in Switzerland.
Megan said: “It was my first international medal and therefore meant so much to me because it was a great experience to be out there.
“I was able to learn from my mistakes, something I can continue to work on in training.”
Before leaving school for good in the summer, Megan had the chance to meet 2014 Commonwealth Games judo gold medallist for England, Nekoda Davis, and learn about the sacrifices necessary to reach the top of her chosen sport.
Megan said: “It was inspiring to meet Nekoda and talk to her about balancing her school work with training.
“I also found out how Nekoda made the next move into becoming a professional athlete because it’s always been my dream to fight for Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.”
For now, Megan is hoping to make her competitive comeback at next year’s Dutch Open where she reached the quarter-finals only to miss out on a medal after a defeat on golden points.
“I want to get my fitness up to its peak and then come back because I’ve always believed that I can get somewhere in taekwondo,” Megan said.