Amy Rumpl kicks and punches with the best of them. And at times, the 17-year-old is first to complete the rigorous drills and exercises in her classes at Master Chong's World Class Tae Kwon Do school.
"It's just freaking awesome, beautiful and powerful, all at the same time," said the junior at Kenmore West High School, who began tae kwon do lessons two years ago. "I'm in my element."
At a recent hourlong class, Amy, with her a petite frame, gave her all -- showing strength and poise with her precise movements and stretching -- as she practiced with another student.
Amy's skills will be on display Saturday when students from Master Chong's four schools do martial arts exhibitions at four area malls as part of the annual fundraiser "Kicking for Miracles," which benefits Women and Children's Hospital.
For Amy, her involvement in the charity event will bring her full circle.
She was born premature at the Bryant Street hospital and weighed only 1 pound, 8 ounces. Amy was a twin, but her brother lived only 11 days. She survived but suffers from mild cerebral palsy that affects the right side of her body.
As a infant, she had a brain bleed and collapsed lung. Amy was on a ventilator for two months and stayed 100 days in the hospital. She's had 12 procedures, including six surgeries on her right leg and arm. She wore a leg brace until the third grade. Amy's also undergone physical, speech and occupational therapies at the hospital.
She likes the idea of giving back to the hospital that's helped her so much. Amy participated in the fundraiser last year, breaking boards in a festive, music-filled atmosphere, with other students.
"It was great to do that for Children's; we raised a lot of money," she said. "It's a fun way to help out."
The fund raiser will be from noon to 4 p.m. at Walden Galleria, Boulevard, Eastern Hills and McKinley malls. It is the school's 13th year of raising money for the hospital, which has totaled more than $500,000 since 1995. The students have raised about $60,000 so far this year, through door-to-door efforts in their neighborhood and collecting donations at their respective schools. Donations will be accepted during the exhibitions at the malls.
Master Chong's commitment to the hospital has become a model for other martial arts schools around the country, which now do similar fundraisers to benefit their community's children's hospital through the Chidren's Miracle Network.
"We have a lot of children in our schools, who have, in some way, been touched by the services at Children's," said Michael Mertens, executive director of Master Chong's, which has schools in Amherst, East Amherst, Lancaster and Orchard Park. "We are tremendously lucky to have Women and Children's Hospital in our community, and we want to contribute to keep it as strong as possible." Community outreach is also part of the teachings of tae kwon do, so the fundraiser is an opportunity for students to exercise it, Mertens added.
More than 100 students, of all ages and belt levels, will demonstrate martial arts moves. Amy will be a part of the group at the Boulevard Mall.
Her lessons at Master Chong's Niagara Falls Boulevard location, has picked up where the hospital care left off, giving her greater inner and outer strength.
"She doesn't do therapy anymore, but this is her therapy, it's done the most for her," said Carol Rumpl, Amy's mother. "She's gotten a lot more confident; she came out of her shell. She's a lot more flexible and can maneuver a lot better. She's improved in so many ways." Amy, who runs cross-country, also excels in school and her increased confidence is aiding her there, too, her mother said.
When Amy first started tae kwon do, movements on the right side of her body was an issue, including problems extending her arm and moving her hips.
But after two years, her mobility has improved and she can execute kicks, punches and balance with great accuracy.
"She can move around just like any other person in the class, pretty much," said Vicky Perkins, an instructor at Master Chong's. "It's completely strengthened her weaker side, her flexibility on that side has come a long way."
Amy said she's long had an interest in martial arts but also started tae kwon do to prove that she's "a normal kid, although I do have some issues."
She's currently a mixed red belt but is eyeing a black belt.
"It's my dream to be a black belt, and I'll get there no matter how long it takes," she said.