Samantha Cravens will celebrate her 18th birthday on January 7 and officially graduate from the junior ranks of Taekwondo. In 2007, she made her first U.S. Junior National Team and promptly captured the gold medal in the female light middleweight division of the Pan American Junior Taekwondo Championships held in Daytona Beach in October. Samantha is also among the pool of athletes eligible to compete at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials for Taekwondo Fight-Off in Colorado Springs, Jan. 25-26. She trains at Poos Taekwondo in Edmond, Okla., and is one of 10 athletes qualified in the female bantam/featherweight division.
Samantha answered the following 10 questions for this month's USA Taekwondo Athlete Profile...
Q1: Describe the experience of competing, and medaling, at the Junior Pan Am Championships in Daytona Beach last October.
SAMANTHA CRAVENS: It was an amazing experience. That was my first time that I was able to travel with a national team and I couldn't have asked for a better trip. It was so awesome being in that kind of enviroment with all the different countries. And my team and coaches were the best. I was able to immediately bond with everyone and was able to have a great time. I can't wait until my next trip.
Q2: What other international competitions have you competed in, and how did they compare to the Junior Pan Am Championships?
SAMANTHA CRAVENS: I actually just got back from competing over Thanksgiving in the Paris Open over in France, and I traveled with the Texas State team and was coached by Gary Galloway. I wasn't familiar with the team except for my own two teammates that went (Sydney Riddle and Connor Myers) but like the Junior National Team, the team's atmosphere was great. Instead of Spanish countries I was able to meet and compete with some of the European countries and overall the tournament ran pretty well.
Q3: As you graduate to the senior division in 2008, how much have you changed during your time in the junior ranks?
SAMANTHA CRAVENS: Well, of course I would have to say that I have matured a little and have definitely gained a lot more experience. And I hope to use that experience in some of the tournaments I'm going to be competing in this coming year.
Q4: What motivates you during a long practice session?
SAMANTHA CRAVENS: Just knowing that all of my hard work will definitely pay off in the end. I know that if I keep going that I can only go forward and succeed more.
Q5: You list your favorite athlete as Laila Ali. What do you admire about her?
SAMANTHA CRAVENS: I just think its so awesome how she started out her career strong, and then after taking a year off, was able to come back and dominate again. I think that Laila and I are similar in some ways because I also had to take a year off due to a serious knee injury. Its just inspirational to me knowing that it was possible for someone to come back after a break just as strong if not stronger.
Q6: What have you been doing since the Junior Pan Am Championships in early October?
SAMANTHA CRAVENS: I have continued my training at Poos Taekwondo but I also have been trying to focus on my senior year in high school. I'm very involved with my school and other activities and so sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with everything, including school work, and also train. But I always manage because I can't imagine my life without Taekwondo.
Q7: What kind of car do you drive?
SAMANTHA CRAVENS: I drive a 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt and it is so awesome. I couldn't have asked for a better car. It's also orange, which is my favorite color.
Q8: Looking back on your Taekwondo career so far, what have been some of your goals at each of the competitive levels?
SAMANTHA CRAVENS: Well, in my years of being a junior my main goal was to make the National Team, and I finally reached that goal in my last year competing at the junior level. And now my next goal is to make the Senior National Team and travel and compete with them. Other than that my goals pretty much consist of just becoming a better fighter and learning more with each practice.
Q9: What are your goals for 2008 and what are you looking forward to?
SAMANTHA CRAVENS: First, I want to make the Senior National Team and then after that I'm going to be traveling with the AAU Senior National Team over in Europe sometime during the spring and I hope to do well at the competition over there.
Q10: Are you excited about competing in the senior ranks in the coming year, or a little apprehensive?
SAMANTHA CRAVENS: I am very excited but at the same time a little apprehensive. It isn't my first year competing at the senior level but it was a little nerve racking my first time. All I can hope for now is to do as well as I can.