A life of service beckons Micaela Choi, a senior at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School. She’ll be attending the United States Military Academy at West Point and following in her parents’ footsteps — both of whom attended the Academy.
“I’ve been just so inspired by my parents,” Choi said. “But it was my own decision. My parents supported me every step of the way.”
During their time in service, which was right after the 9/11 attack, they deployed to the Middle East: her mother was in intelligence; her father was a finance officer. After five years they retired as captains. Her father was recalled later to the Army Reserves. But Choi’s grandparents also did military duty either in the Vietnam War or the Korean Conflict.
“The family is close to the military. I’ve learned how impactful the military has been,” she said.
Her grandparents are also Korean, which sparked an interest in Korean culture. That led to her involvement in taekwando.
“I played a lot of different sports but nothing stuck until taekwando,” Choi said. “I really liked it. It really clicked with me.”
As a youngster in elementary school, Choi had some issues with bullying and having confidence to stand up for herself, but the sport helped her to change all that.
“Taekwando helped shape my personality and character early on,” she said. “Through my classes and the life lessons I learned from my instructors and coaches — I practiced traditional taekwondo for about 10 years … and have competed for about eight years — this sport has taught me to gain confidence and mental toughness and to value my confidence. They were grueling steps.”
Her first few matches were eye openers.
“I’d been nervous and hadn’t come out strong,” she said. “I got a bloody nose and allowed her [her opponent] to get the best of me. I wanted to go home. It was a terrible mindset. On the way home, I told my mother that I should have beat that girl. I can’t let that happen to me again.”
After that, she began competing every weekend to get used to getting into the game. By high school, Choi had qualified for the Taekwondo National Championships; won the AAU Taekwondo state championships in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York; won the Canada Open International; been ranked as one of the top 10 female junior fighters in the nation two years in a row; and two years ago got her Black Belt.
“It’s been such a journey,” Choi said. “Going from freshman year to senior year has been a big change work-ethic wise. In middle school, things came easy. But I had to settle down to never be satisfied; never be complacent; continue to work hard to go farther than you think you can. To not give up despite hardships … that nothing was ideal and to stick with it and to be grateful for my backup — my parents and coaches.”
Choi has also put what she’s learned in taekwondo into volleyball. For the last couple of years, the school’s girls varsity volleyball team has competed to become regional champions; been ranked in the state as number one girls varsity volleyball team across all classes and in 2019 were the state champions.
While she’s gratified about participating as part of a team, taekwondo has an added attraction for Choi: competitors as friends.
“It’s the coolest thing,” she said with a laugh. “It’s the first thing they teach you before you throw your first kick: respect. In the ring it’s all you physically, but after … I know all my competitors and we’re all in the same age group. We’re all friends. We go out for dinner and chill afterward. Not a lot of sports you can do that. I think that’s special.”
She’s also aware that her sport has “a lot of wear and tear on the body. So there’s an age limit to competing,” she said.
But for now, Choi continues to work out often doing weightlifting, running, working out on a treadmill or working a kicking bag, she’s also involved with various school honor societies; played percussion in the school band for several years; was in the school’s drama club and book club and is a member of the school’s Reforming Inequities through Student Empowerment group that deals with diversity issues. Choi is also the student representative liaison with the Board of Education; has raised money for Meals on Wheels and the Wilton Food Bank and enjoys creative writing and is a member of the school’s LeFont Club — a creative writing club. And she is an active member of her church and does donation drives for the Veteran’s Miracle Center.
But already, Choi is gearing up for West Point. By late June, she has to begin six weeks of basic training — a requirement for every new cadet.
“I’m resetting to gain better strength and endurance for all the drills,” she said.
And she has her sights set on what she wants to do.
“I hope to study political science during my academic career. But when I enter the Army, I would like to serve as an intelligence officer or become part of the JAG Corp. I like intelligence because of my mom. I felt I could fit in this well,” Choi said. “But it’s whatever my country needs me to do. What I’m assigned.”