Maggie Messina, owner of TaeCole Tae Kwon Do and Fitness in Albertson, said there is nothing like teaching her students what she loves. Over the past 20 years, Messina has been living out her dream, giving children and adults lessons of fitness, fun and discipline.
“It’s not just a business,” Messina said in an interview. “I consider ourselves part of the community, and I do everything I can to give back.”
In 2001, Messina opened the studio after deciding no available options for training could suit her. She also wanted the children in the area to see TaeCole as an escape in hard times.
“I wanted to just create a safe haven for kids,” Messina said. “I wanted to create that dream I had, to build what would have helped me in those times of need.”
From upstate New York, Messina grew up in the foster care system. Living through poverty, she said, helped her achieve the determination necessary to reach the upper echelons of her sport.
Professionally, Messina first competed at Madison Square Garden in 1986, competing with her division in the gym corner near the bleachers and the bathroom. Since then, she has won multiple world championships in multiple sport karate circuits.
When opening TaeCole, Messina said her focus was primarily on the business and its growth. However, she returned to competing in 2014.
“My last competition, I won gold for the World Kickboxing Commission; that was my biggest win,” Messina said. “After that point, I decided to turn my focus strictly on my students.”
Messina has received merit awards from the U.S. Congress and the state Assembly for her dedication to achieving equality, particularly in regard to children and women.
Classes at TaeCole on Willis Avenue range across multiple divisions. Students are grouped together based on age, starting from the peewee division and going to juniors, beginners, intermediate and super juniors. Messina’s oldest students participate in the adult division, and she says over the years she has had students in the 60s.
The Albertson resident attributed her success to the school’s retention rate, saying she often sees the same students for over a decade. She said parents want their children to participate for fitness, a hobby, or to instill discipline and self-control. Messina said she can’t describe what it’s like to see someone learn to behave themselves when growing up in her school.
“I have students come back from college and tell me they wouldn’t be the adult they are today without taking my class,” she said. At the end of every session, there is a reflection period going over important lessons, including integrity, kindness and honesty, among others.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Messina did what she thought was impossible, and taught online. For a sport that revolves around interaction and physicality, she said it was one of the toughest things she has gone through as a business owner.
Messina doubled her staff with former students home from college and taught on Zoom. She also let many of her students come in for free because she believed now more than ever was not the time to disengage from the students who grew up in her school.
“I’m thankful I have a great staff, I could not have done it without them and their knowledge,” Messina said.
With TaeCole back to a better sense of normalcy after the end of quarantine, Messina said she is grateful to live out her dream and help her community.
“I always tell the kids that failure is not an option,” she said. “If you live by that rule, your life will be fine.”