Maggie Messina said when she couldn’t find a good martial arts school when she moved out to Long Island.
So she decided to open up her own.
“I just love kids so I’m in my element, because I’m like a big kid,” said Messina, an Albertson resident.
Messina is the owner of Taecole Tae Kwon Do and Fitness in Albertson.
She opened up in 2001 and has faced her fair share of challenges since – from the 2008 recession to the everyday struggle of being a female owner in a traditionally male role.
But Messina is no stranger to challenge.
Growing up she was in the foster care system and was homeless for a point.
“I think it’s easier when you’re born into hard times … after you’re homeless and have nothing, nothing can compare to that,” Messina said.
Messina first got involved in martial arts after graduating high school. Her sister-in-law at the time was a black belt and inspired to try it out, Messina said
“I was always athletic and here I am out of high school, after being homeless trying to keep myself on a straight line pretty much out of trouble,” Messina said. “And I loved it, I just got really into it.”
Once she was a brown belt, Messina said, she knew she wanted to do this for a living.
She also knew she couldn’t just “dive into it,” she said.
Instead, she got an administrative job at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to make and save money.
Though Messina said many of her students from the surrounding area may not face the challenges she did, she tries to create a supportive, encouraging environment at her school, she said.
Messina said at her studio instructors instill that everyone is smart.
She said they encourage students to believe they can do anything and become anything they want.
“We’ve had several kids come back and thank us because they said you really were one of the better parts of my childhood and helped me grow and believe in myself,” Messina said. “And that’s really the most rewarding thing, when they come back and thank us.”
Messina also said she’s one of the first women to open up and operate a martial arts school on her own.
Doing so, she put up with a lot of prejudice, she said. Some of which she still faces.
It does, however, help her attract more young girls to the sport, she said.
“I have as many girls as boys, which people are surprised when they come in with boys they’re like, ‘Girls do this,'” Messina said. “I’m like, ‘Are you kidding, it’s the best thing for them.'”
Messina also said that taekwondo classes are about more than kicking and punching.
“We give them lifestyle tools they need,” Messina said.
Messina said ultimately she wanted to give kids a place to go where they could “truly believe in who they are.”
“I had a dream, I had a vision and nothing was going to stop me,” Messina said. “I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to create a safe haven for kids in the community and failure wasn’t an option in my eyes.”