TAMPA, Fla. — Jefferson Taylor and Dan Levenson training together would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. They were teaching at rival Dojangs in the same neighborhood.
“Who's got the most students? Who's got the most black belts? Who's got the best looking black belts? Who's got the best looking Dojang?” said Levenson, a grandmaster black belt of Martial Arts America.
Then between 2017 and 2018, Taylor’s life took a kick to the gut. His teenage daughter passed away due to cystic fibrosis.
“I was lost, which is just about the best way to put it,” said Taylor, a master black belt.
A year later, he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer.
“Basically, [they] said my fighting days were done at that point,” said Taylor.
However, his rival said not so fast, inviting Taylor to train and teach with him, while undergoing chemotherapy.
“A lot of it was mental imaging, where he just went home and thought, ‘I just need to position my body, I just need to get my line straight,’ and then he came back and I’m like, ‘this guy is playing hardball,’” said Levenson.
It just so happened this year’s U.S. Open Taekwondo Championships were being held in Orlando at the end of February. With Grandmaster Dan as his coach, Master Taylor decided to compete, with one goal in mind, winning.
“You can’t get up there and think we are going to get that participation medal, and if you do that, we aren’t going,” said Taylor.
Master Taylor went on to finish the form aspect of the tournament, on the podium, with a silver medal.
“The mission of the coach is to make the athlete look good, he made me look good as a coach,” said Levenson.
Now back in Tampa, Master Taylor isn’t sure what his long-term medical prognosis is, but he does know he won’t stop fighting.
“I’ve got more reasons to keep pushing than I have reasons to stop at this point,” said Taylor.