By Penny Zalalas
19-year-old Deanna Kyriazopoulos is a Greek Australian Taekwondo champion who is currently ranked first in Australia in the 46 and 49 kg division and was named “2017 Female Athlete of the Year,” by Global Martial Arts. Deanna is not only a fulltime athlete, she also studies at university and works during the week- proving that hard work, perseverance and determination pays off.
“My ultimate goal is to be the best version of myself. Not only in my sport but in my studies and in my future growth. I want to be a role model for young girls, for young children in sport and in the Greek community,” she says.
Deanna took time out of her busy schedule to chat to GCT about her love of Martial Arts, her huge achievements, goals and love affair with Greece and her Greek fans around the world, who she says are her number one supporters.
When did you begin practicing Taekwondo?
I began practising the art of Taekwondo at the age of 5, I am now 19 years old, so I have been practising for 14 years.
Was your talent and passion for Martial Arts evident from the start?
I knew that I enjoyed Martial Arts, I became very flexible and my technique was very good. Many people saw potential in me and it encouraged me to further pursue my dreams. As the years progressed my talent and passion for the sport grew and it has become a way of life for me.
How many days a week do you train and how often do you travel?
I train 5 days a week, twice a day. In the morning, I do strength and conditioning and in the evening Taekwondo specific training. I rest on Sundays and Wednesdays. I travel a lot and I compete in numerous countries. I am overseas weeks at a time as I may compete in various tournaments and sometimes training camps in Europe.
Are you a full-time athlete or do you also work/study?
I train as a fulltime athlete, under coach Ali Khalil, the current Olympic coach at Global Martial Arts in Hoxton Park. I am also currently studying a Bachelor of Commerce with a major in Marketing at Macquarie University, as well as working two days a week at Sportscover Australia, a sports insurance company as a marketing officer. I have an extremely busy and tight schedule, but with good organisation and the support of my university and employer I just manage to balance it all.
Tell us about your achievements so far?
My current sporting achievements include: Grand Prix London invite (only top 32 in the world) October 2017, I was 1 of 6 Australian athletes selected to compete for the first time in the Asian indoor Martial Arts Games in September 2017 in Turkmenistan (G1). I made history to be the first flag bearer for Australia in the Asian Indoor Games. I’m currently ranked 1st in Australia in the 46kg and 49 kg division. I’m also currently ranked 37th in the World rankings (46 kg Division). I was also awarded “2017 Female Athlete of the Year” at Global Martial Arts.
What are your goals in the near future?
My goals are to win the 2018 Oceanias and to compete at the 2019 World Championships. I also hope to go to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. I aspire to win medal in numerous G1 and G2 events in order to build up ranking points and get invited to more Grand Prix events.
You won a Silver Medal in Greece in 2016, can you tell us how you felt competing in Greece?
Competing in Greece was a highlight because I have so many friends all over Greece and Greeks have always been my number one supporters. They support and encourage me and are always very vocal and proud when they see me compete for Australia. They see my long surname and instantly embrace me as one of their own and I love and respect that.
Do you travel to Greece often and what do you love most about your Greek heritage?
I have visited Greece 15 times so far. I travel to Greece every year, sometimes more than once in the same year, and I always train while I am travelling, so having those connections and established relationships with other coaches and athletes in Greece, I am able to train no matter which town I am in. You will usually find me in Athens or Nafplio and Argos and my favourite little seaside village of Kiveri visiting my relatives. I have a great love affair with Greece, I love everything about our culture and our faith and I love how my parents as Australian born Greeks have managed to hold on tight to our customs and traditions and to instil a love of Greece in their children as second generation Australians. I love the spirit of Greek people and their kindness and generosity, their outlook on life no matter the circumstances they face and their zest for life.
Although I was taught at my junior school (All Saints Grammar, Greek Orthodox School in Sydney) the word Philotimo, I never quite understood it until the last couple of years travelling in Greece. I now understand how this one word embodies everything about Greece and its people and I am extremely proud of my Greek heritage and the journey my grandparents made for a better life in this beautiful country full of opportunities that we are lucky to call home.
Tell us about your diet when you are competing and do you think a ‘Greek diet’ is good for athletes?
I’m on a strict diet as I compete in 46 kilograms. I also compete in -49 kilograms sometimes but I don’t diet for this division. Greek food is good for athletes when the right choices are made and in moderation. The grilled meats, seafood salads and vegetables are all great choices. My downfall is Greek pastries of all sorts and definitely hold back on the tiropites…hahaha! I had to learn the hard way one winter in Athens and it was extremely difficult to make weight for my competition at that particular time.
What do you love most about competing?
I love the feeling of stepping into the court, using my skills and the adrenaline rush. The hype around competition is always exciting and I love the feeling after weigh in, when I can finally eat chocolate and a big bowl of pasta. The hard work, sacrifice and effort put into training in the lead up makes competition sweeter. It’s always an honour to represent our country. Sometimes we win and sometimes we learn. Losses teach us how to appreciate success. I always enjoy the experience, and am grateful and blessed to have the opportunity to visit so many countries and certain countries that I would not have had the chance to visit outside of this sport. I love making so many friends from around the world and learning about their cultures.
What is your ultimate goal?
My ultimate goal is to be the best version of myself. Not only in my sport but in my studies and in my future growth. I want to be a role model for young girls, for young children in sport and in the Greek community. I would like people to see it is possible to achieve great results in all aspects of your life and that it is possible to find a balance between sport/study commitments. I have always said that if you are organised and disciplined you can achieve. It is important to remember that sport is short lived but education and learning is life long and we must always have a plan B for life after sport. Dream – Believe – Succeed!