Greek Australian taekwondo athlete Paul Calafiore Zervos is part of a contingent of nine talented taekwondo teens willing to go the extra distance to achieve their dreams of becoming elite taekwondo athletes.

The group departed for Turkey on Sunday at the invitation of a world-class taekwondo academy in Izmir Turkey. Victorians Paul Calafiore Zervos, Cindy Xue, Charlotte Calleri, Madeleine and Stephanie Shoebridge Belfiore and Hieu Ng, and West Australians Jose Millares, Ashleigh McGlew and Ethan Silverton have all been selected based on their status of being nationally-ranked athletes relative to their age, weight and gender category.

Team Taekwondo director and emerging athlete lead coordinator for AIS, Master Murat Eryurek, is the tour organiser and is accompanying the group, aged between 14 and 19.

“They’re all black belts,” Eryurek explains. “They’ve done all that. The reason these kids and students are extraordinary is that, above and beyond that, they’ve been competing at state and national levels. Six of the nine have been Australian representatives and been to world championship levels. But unfortunately, for us, as a country – this is not just them, but most of the Australian athletes when they go overseas – they get eliminated in the first and second round, because our level relative to the world is probably, conservatively I’d say, second tier.”

Turkey ranks among the top tier of taekwondo nations in the world at the moment, alongside Korea, England and Iran. The young Australians will get to train at the world-class Izmir Buyuk Belediye Sports Academy, where for two weeks, they’ll be immersed in a professional training environment, sharing the floor with world-class athletes from the academy.

“Our athletes will get a taste of this environment,” Eryurek says. “They will be pushed to limits that they have never been pushed to. These athletes will challenge themselves to obtain sports and life skills that they can carry back to Australia.”

He says the group have been very excited at the prospect of the trip.

“Let’s face it. They’re going to travel, and spend two weeks together. They know that it’s going to be a hard slog. But when you’ve been committed to a sport for 10 years, you get to a crossroad in your life where you’re either doing it for fun or you’re a sportsperson and you want to start excelling. And these kids have all made commitments with their own training, their own clubs, to be improving performers. Because they know the sacrifice they need to make, which is to give up their school holidays, stay in three-star dormitories, train twice a day, be very tired at the end of it, they come away with a lot of experience and laughter and something you can’t buy with money.”

This is a self-funded trip by the athletes and their families, subsidised by local business Belvedere Hosiery, Trade Institute of Victoria, Stonegate Wealth Solutions and Victorian taekwondo club Team Taekwondo. Belvedere Hosiery CEO Tony Calafiore, whose son Paul is among the contingent, says that in Australia there is plenty of funding for mainstream sports such as football, cricket and soccer but no funding for alternative sports like taekwondo.

“Every child that is born in Australia will not necessarily choose a mainstream sport,” he says. “My company and I like supporting taekwondo as it is not just a sport but a way of life. We love the values of passion, respect, effort and success that taekwondo and Master Murat Eryurek instil into his athletes and we’re proud to be connected with this campaign.”

The athletes left Australia on 27 March and will return on 9 April.

Any company wishing to support these athletes can contact 0408437111 or email [email protected]