When it comes to neogitiating the jungle gym of life, Lorraine Bainbridge is all too familiar with how complicated things can become if you lose your balance.
That's because an accident at a playground in Hastings, when she was only 1-year-old, has left Bainbridge with a brain injury.
Now 34, the part-time rest home employee from Napier reflects on her daily grind to find some sort of parity while grappling with her intellectual disability.
Finding rhyme and reason in life was hard enough, but seeking empathy from those who tended to stray from the path of humanity became increasingly challenging through primary, intermediate and secondary schools as well as work.
"Due to bullying I had a big breakdown," says Bainbridge with some help in expressing herself through her mother, Diane.
Instead of drawing compassion from others trying to walk in her shoes to try to comprehend her plight, she found some of them incessantly taunting and tormenting her.
Consequently the then-teenager yearned for something that could instil confidence in helping her find a sense of freedom from a flawed template but still be able to put a smile on people's faces.
That sandpit eventually came in the mould of the martial arts discipline of taekwondo.
The modest doors of the now defunct Bay City Taekwondo dojang in Hastings had beckoned her as a 21-year-old.
The discipline of self-defence, making new friends and instilling a sense of accomplishment in Bainbridge's daily routine have played a pivotal part in her slow but methodical development as an individual.
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"It keeps me on track and gave me great mental health when I was about 15 or 16."
Having competed against able-bodied taekwondo opponents all those years, the former Karamu High School special needs student is delighted to be competing against fellow exponents with a similar degree of disability when the two-day Gold Coast Open Championship begins in Australia, tomorrow.
"It's awesome," says Bainbridge, mindful she will engage in combat under the para-taekwondo rules for the first time which also puts her a step closer to representing New Zealand as a Paralympics athlete.
No doubt, she considers it a "privilege" to have able-bodied dojang members and rival club opponents help her hone her skills but the anxiety levels tended to be quite high at the height of combat.
Visually impaired, she has to take her spectacles off. Add to that her reaction time against able-bodied people and you start getting the picture of the disparities she has to encounter at competitions.
"Sometimes I would just kick into mid-air and not connect," she says, with a laugh to the approval of her mother who identifies with the humour that often becomes an elixir.
Bainbridge believes butterflies will still flutter in her tummy but the disability factor will become a leveller against opponents.
The black-belt exponent is a member of contingent of 14 from the newly formed Se Jong Taekwondo Hawke's Bay Inc dojang along Market St — relocating from Bay City in Queen St in February — who returned with 20 medals from the Tauranga Budo South Open Championship last week.
They claimed 12 gold, five silver and three bronze medals among them, including two Vanuatu fruit pickers who were competing for the first time under the tutelage of fourth dan black-belt instructor Camille Pruckmuller.
It took Bainbridge a long time to acquire black-belt status, almost three years ago, because the ritual requires memorising patterns for each belt, which can be quite taxing for intellectually disabled people.
Never having given up on humanity, she is indebted to the community for reaching her $3000 target to meet the costs of travelling to the Gold Coast on Wednesday.
"I've been walking in town selling Mum's big fruitcake," says Brainbridge of the close to 100 of cakes baked for $2 raffle tickets.
While the Tauranga event was an open one, it did lure some overseas talent to help the Bay 11 prepare for the Gold Coast.
"Lorraine's always had to compete with able-bodied and able-minded athletes so Gold Coast will be great for her," says Pruckmuller, who sees the champs as a yardstick to gauge their worth against their peers although the Aussies will accrue points to gain national rankings.
With electronic judging, fighters will have to find the right weight in punches and kicks to register points.
Pruckmuller, who claimed gold in poomse (patterns on the floor) in an age-group open division, also paired with a Vanuatu protege to claim silver in Tauranga.
The Hastings grandmother had sold her business to a South Korean instructor but his visa wasn't approved, so she started the Se Jong dojang under the banner of Kiwi Korean Grand Master Oh, of Auckland.
"My son [Robby], who used to help me with classes, has left for uni so now I have a huge pool of top athletes at my disposal," she says, adding they had to move from the Queens St premises after nine years because the building had been sold.
"I'm back into it fulltime now," says Pruckmuller, before conducting a week-long world-class workshop here in July. "It's just not happening. Everybody still wants me."