Long Grove teen a world-class Taekwondo athlete who inspires others
Anyone meeting this modest, unassuming 15-year-old might not guess that Long Grove resident Humza Qazi is a world-class athlete.
In November, Humza was chosen to travel to South Korea with his coach, Master BoYeon Kim, 47, of Hawthorn Woods, for an all-expense paid trip to compete in the 2019 World Taekwondo Championship of the Ambassador's Cup in Seoul and Muju, Korea.
Humza had just won a tournament in Palatine, following a gold medal-winning performance in Junior Pairs Poomsae (forms) and a bronze medal in individual Poomsae in Montreal at the Canada Open.
But the South Korean invitational competition was a chance to step up to an elite level with 120 athletes from 44 countries, and allowed Humza the chance to train at the Kukkiwon, Taekwondo world headquarters, and to compete at the birthplace of the sport.
The result? He won first place in the Individual Division in this world competition.
"Competing in South Korea was a dream come true. I competed against formidable opponents and won a gold medal at the birthplace of Taekwondo," Humza said.
"I was honored to have been selected ... to compete in this beautiful country (and) have the opportunity to experience another country and culture. It was just an amazing experience."
A third-degree black belt, Humza began to study Taekwondo at iTiger Martial Arts in Lake Zurich when he was 4 years old. His grandfather suggested it might help his self-confidence and would teach him self-defense.
His parents, Amber and Sulaiman Qazi, say they've watched him mature, work hard and become a leader, while developing a desire to help others.
"Taekwondo has become an important part of his life," said Amber Qazi, who, with her family, has attended almost every competition.
Kim, owner of iTiger, first noticed Humza's passion and talent when he was around 5 or 6 years old. Working with Kim, Humza gained experience and, in 2013 at age 7, won first place in a national championship.
"When we practice at the school, he does most things perfectly," Kim said. "Competition always made him nervous, but now he enjoys performing in front of referees. His talents placed him on top of the world, but he always is thinking of his family and praying."
Despite training six days a week, Humza actively volunteers at his mosque and works on the staff of the Stevenson High School newspaper, The Statesman, as part of his journalism class.
"Humza is generally quiet and lets his actions speak for him," said Stevenson journalism teacher Dean Bradshaw of Highland Park. "He always comes across as extremely sincere and authentic."
A new crop of young, interested writers appears annually, Bradshaw said, but "Humza stood out instantly as an earnest, diligent student with an inherent desire to get better."
Humza began by observing and asking questions as part of the newspaper team, but now takes more of a leadership role and uses his initiative to tackle projects and challenge ideas, Bradshaw said.
Those who know him from competition share these views.
Teammate and Deer Park resident Megan Cho, 15, became friends with Humza at iTiger.
"The way he communicates makes people feel comfortable. It is encouraging to have such an encouraging teammate."
The youngest in her iTiger class in 2016, Nicole Strazd, 9, of Lake Zurich was a bit scared because all her classmates were older. Humza immediately comforted her and impressed both her and her parents.
"He is an incredible athlete and dedicated martial artist who motivates everyone around him, and he inspires her," said Nicole's mother, Simona.
Humza believes the sport is responsible for his ability to remain calm, to gain greater respect for others and to be able to improve his team, leadership and life skills, such as time management.
He would like go to into law or legal journalism in the future.
The sport, he said, has taught him "to believe in myself and to never stop working."