Log Cabin Chronicles

girl in air

Photograph/Phil Desormeaux

Just Folks: Julie LeBrun
Black belt, video store clerk

STORY & PHOTOGRAPHS: JOHN MAHONEY

Julie LeBrun of Stanstead, Quebec, has a winning smile that could wreck a young man's heart and a high kick that could tear his head off. You wouldn't know about the kicking part if you saw her in her street clothes. Very pretty and very petite -- she only weighs 102 lbs. -- are the words that come to mind.

However, she holds a black belt in karate and her collection of medals and trophies weigh more than she does. Earlier this month she returned from the AAU national tae kwan do championships in Buffalo, New York, with another pair of gold medals, a silver, and a bronze to add to her collection. Her tidy apartment overlfows with more than 60 medals and assorted large trophies.

To win you have to fight, and Julie at 28 is a highly-trained fighter who enters full-contact combat with a disciplined and focused fury.

"I prefer point sparring," she says, "but to compete in the internationals you have to fight." There you have it.

A proficient linguist -- she speaks English, French, Spanish, and Italian -- Julie trains two hours a day, both physically and mentally. And she puts in about 20 hours each week, training and teaching, at the Blue Wave Tae kwan do Center in Newport, Vermont, just a few miles across the Canadian border.

"Taekwando is my life," she says. "In winter, I teach at the Urselines [the Roman Catholic convent high school] in Stanstead. "It's part of my training to teach."

Julie came to karate relatively late, not until she was 22. In high school in Sherbrooke, Quebec, she thought she might be a dancer. But she had always been fascinated with the martial arts.

"I loved David Caradine in the Kung Fu series on television, but my dad wouldn't allow me to train. He said it wasn't meant for girls."

And how does he feel now?

"He's a very reserved man but when I started winning gold medals he went around the bowling alley, telling all his friends about his daughter's victories. He's very proud of me."

Julie keeps body and soul together by working the check-out desk at the Monsieur Cadilo video store in downtown Rock Island, Quebec, just a stone's throw from the Canadian/U.S. border.

"It's not easy getting work here," she says, "and employers are reluctant to hire competitive athletes because they're afraid they'll miss too much work."

So that part of her life isn't particularly easy. And it was made more difficult last autumn when someone ripped off more than $400 worth of her karate equipment in Vermont. "What really upset me was that they took my black belt -- it was a very special one that was passed on to me when I earned the right to wear it."

But that's in the past and Julie LeBrun continues to practice her punches and spins and high kicks and thinks about the Pan American Games and how she wants to be there, fighting flyweight, being a contender.

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