Two nights a week since January, the upstairs of the Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) thrift store has been filled with the sounds of 16 eager taekwondo students. They all started as white-belt beginners, but as of Tuesday, July 30, six have earned their gold belts.

Instructors Laura Erickson and Andrea Radke started Two Harbors Taekwondo in the still-developing youth center space above N2N.

"This is something that I've always wanted to do, but couldn't find the space," Erickson said. "I happened into the thrift store one day two years ago and talked to Pastor Barb Joseph. She recommended the space above the store."

Back then, the youth center wasn't ready for the class. The floor needed to be refinished, the ceiling painted, new windows were installed and more. Erickson received a call from Pastor Jim Joseph of N2N last fall and started her first class in January.

"I realized how much I'd missed it," Erickson said.

"I felt the same way, like a part of me was missing," Radke said.

Elizabeth Fagerland practices a break fall roll at the taekwondo class on Tuesday, July 30 while other students wait in line to take their turns. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)
Elizabeth Fagerland practices a break fall roll at the taekwondo class on Tuesday, July 30 while other students wait in line to take their turns. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)

Radke started to learn taekwondo in high school and later earned her second-degree black belt. She was a junior bronze medalist in the Junior Olympics in sparring.

"I went with my aunt to see my cousin. He had just started and the instructor said, 'Hey, you — come try this.' And I did and pretty much never left until I had kids," Radke said.

Erickson didn't get into the activity until she was an adult in Thunder Bay, Canada, but threw herself into the study and earned her second-degree black belt as well. She trained and taught in the chung bong style of taekwondo. When her family moved to Two Harbors, she wanted to continue to teach the style.

Gold belt recipients smile with their instructors at Two Harbors Taekwondo in the youth center above Neighbor to Neighbor on July 30. From left to right; instructor Laura Erickson, Michael Erickson, Alicea Erickson, Hannah Searls, Haley Searls, Elizabeth Radke and instructor Andrea Radke. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)
Gold belt recipients smile with their instructors at Two Harbors Taekwondo in the youth center above Neighbor to Neighbor on July 30. From left to right; instructor Laura Erickson, Michael Erickson, Alicea Erickson, Hannah Searls, Haley Searls, Elizabeth Radke and instructor Andrea Radke. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)

"It's a style that no one else around here is teaching, which is both sad and exciting," Erickson said. "It's a style local to Minnesota that was developed in the Cities and brought up to northern Minnesota and Canada. So I wanted to bring it to Two Harbors."

The class started out with 16 beginner students, which Erickson said was a bit intimidating.

"Normally, you have some students who are more advanced, some beginners, and the advanced ones help teach the beginners," she said. "So it was a little daunting to have 16 white belts at once."

Six of the students tested on Tuesday and received their gold belts.

Now that she has some more advanced students, Erickson said she's ready to take on more beginner students. This fall, the group will offer a beginner teen/adult class at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, immediately following the youth class at 5:30 p.m.

Proceeds from the classes go to equipment and to the development of the N2N youth center.

Instructor Laura Erickson demonstrates a kick for students Hannah Searls and Alicea Erickson during a Two Harbors Taekwondo class on Tuesday, July 30. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)
Instructor Laura Erickson demonstrates a kick for students Hannah Searls and Alicea Erickson during a Two Harbors Taekwondo class on Tuesday, July 30. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)