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Biggest trophy for New Port Richey black belt is teaching success

Cheryl Cleveland Age: 30 Level: Third-degree black belt School: Community Fun and Fitness Center To view the video of Cleveland’s record-setting board break, visit


Cheryl Cleveland Age: 30 Level: Third-degree black belt School: Community Fun and Fitness Center To view the video of Cleveland’s record-setting board break, visit


Cheryl Cleveland had to wait 12 hours.

The 30-year-old New Port Richey resident was at the U.S. Open World Martial Arts Championships in Orlando on July 4 awaiting her turn to break five boards. It was her attempt to surpass the world record held by women. But she had to wait.

"I was exhausted by then," Cleveland said. "I just wanted to go home and go to bed."

Despite the fact she's a third-degree black belt and has practiced tae kwon do since she was a child, Cleveland's first attempt yielded no broken boards. So she waited another hour, holding her five pine boards under her arm until her second and last attempt.

"I actually thought about going down to three boards," Cleveland said, "because there I am, carrying around five unbroken boards. It was so discouraging because how was I going to tell all my students and friends that I didn't do what I set out to accomplish?"

She was nervous, tired and frustrated. Then she watched as another competitor from Texas accomplished the feat and broke five boards with a side kick. Instead of giving up, Cleveland seized the opportunity, taking it as motivation.

She set up her boards. All the training she did in a short time — 100 crunches a day, repeated kicks of a heavy bag until her whole body vibrated — would not go to waste.

She broke the boards and she also made it look easy.

"It felt awesome," Cleveland said. "I couldn't believe I did it, then I could, but I was really doubting myself at that time. After waiting 12 hours, I didn't want to break zero boards on two attempts."

Cleveland took home a giant trophy and plans to display it at her new Community Fun and Fitness Center once it opens later this year. Its a building she received from a church and is renovating.

It'll be her new home away from home, the one where she teaches her passion .

"She's always been an outgoing person," said her husband of 10 years, Ben Orona, who is a second-degree black belt. "She puts people at ease, which makes her a good instructor. She always knows what's going on, like a cruise director on a ship.

"But I had to ask her" at the championships, he added, " 'What's more important, the trophy or record?' She didn't care about the trophy. She wanted the record and that's why she has it now."

Like with getting the record, Cleveland is on a bit of a journey in creating her new center. Most of her free time from teaching martial arts is spent fixing the place. She's spent nearly $100,000, and has had no help from state grants because "I can't compete with the YMCAs," she said.

The money she makes from teaching is on a donation basis from parents of the students.

Her hard work — with a hammer or on the mat — hasn't gone unnoticed by her students. Danielle Pollard, 13, is succeeding with the help of Cleveland. In fact, Cleveland predicts Pollard will break her own record one day.

If that happens, it'll be because of Cleveland.

"She works with people till they get it right because she wants them to get it right," Pollard said. "She'll make the time on the side so you can get it down. She wants to see the students succeed and that means a lot to you."

That's why she had to have the record.

Orona says Cleveland didn't want to disappoint by returning empty-handed. The girl who grew mentally tough because she was usually the lone woman in her martial arts classes held her head high, making sure her students would be as proud of her as she is of them.

"Teaching is definitely my passion," said Cleveland, who is going for her fourth-degree black belt in April. "It's something I always want to do — even if I won the lottery I'd keep doing this. It gives me more pride to have a student that breaks a world record than to break one myself. That's way more rewarding than what I do."

Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas can be reached at mc[email protected] or (352) 544-1771.

Biggest trophy for New Port Richey black belt is teaching success 07/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 27, 2009 4:13pm]
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