Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU student learns life (saving) lessons from tae kwon do

Megan Westervelt had always thought the world was fairly harmless. That changed abruptly in 2006 — when two men accosted her while she was living in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

They followed her into her apartment building lobby early one evening and cornered her by an elevator.

“They were yelling in Spanish, so I thought I’d done something wrong,” Westervelt says. “By the time I figured out they were trying to mug me, I had clenched up so tight that they couldn’t pry my purse off my shoulder.”

They ended up reaching into her purse and stealing her cell phone while she stood there paralyzed with fear yelling, “Es mio, es mio!” (It’s mine, it’s mine!)

After the men fled, Westervelt says she sat in the elevator crying for a while.

“The event changed my entire innocent and naive outlook on life,” she says.

When she returned to the University of Denver, she began to consider how she could protect herself in the future. That’s when she found Club Taekwondo, one of 29 sport clubs at DU.

There she learned self-defense that combines joint manipulation techniques, footwork, kicking, punching and sparring. She eventually became the club’s vice president.

Master Lee Cutright, who founded the club in 1997 and still coaches it, says students become “self-actualized through the process of confrontation” that’s involved in fighting and overcoming their fears. “Learning a martial art strengthens an individual mentally, physically and spiritually,” he says.

Today Westervelt — who will graduate in December with a double major in journalism and international studies — says she feels safer. “I have the confidence to defend myself. If I were mugged now, I could stay calm, one of the key lessons of tae kwon do, and I’d … use my sparring skills … to hurt the men badly enough [so] I could escape.”

But she says the best lesson was learning to be open-minded to all cultures.

“There are members from Mongolia, Kenya, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam,” she says. “And because I was eager to meet them and learn more about their lives back home, I gained some of my best friends at DU [through the club]. I always look forward to practice because I get to spend time with those I’ve come to love so much.”

She recommends tae kwon do to everyone.

“There’s so much you can gain from it,” she says.

The club is open to all DU students. For more information, visit


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