North Allegheny student goes to China, returns as tai chi gold-medal winner
After visiting Huangshan City, China, North Allegheny Intermediate High School sophomore Gina Bao returned to the United States an international female champion in taijijian, or tai chi straight sword.
Bao, 15, traveled with the U.S. Traditional Wushu Team to participate in the Fifth World Traditional Wushu Championships from Nov. 5 to 11, when she competed with and defeated contestants from several other countries to win the gold medal in her age group, 14 to 18.
“It was really interesting to see all of the other countries doing kung fu,” said Bao, of Wexford. “I've never seen Russians and (Ukrainians), and they were doing the same thing we do here. That was so amazing, to see that the world is so much bigger than you think it is. It was completely worth it.”
She also won the bronze medal for females in her age group for taijiquan, or tai chi hand form, in the competition.
Bao described tai chi as a form of kung fu.
Bao began practicing the martial arts when her parents opened Win-Win Kung Fu school in the North Hills in 2009. That location has since closed. Win-Win Kung Fu still has a location in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
Originally a ballet dancer, Bao gave up that activity when her family recognized her talent in martial arts.
“That was really hard for me because I didn't like martial arts, but we (she and her father) both knew I was better,” Bao said. “I liked dance a lot more, but I was better at martial arts. In the end I chose martial arts. I love tai chi because it's like dance. I like to compete, and I like to win because I like to make my parents proud.”
Bao, who has a total of 25 international and domestic medals, has made her parents proud and also has caught the eye of a family friend.
“At first, she didn't tell anybody that she won, just family and friends,” said the friend, Reena DelSignore. “Someone should just look at the trophy. She won something for the U.S. It should be recognized, even if just in Pittsburgh. Gina is so good at what she does.”
DelSignore, whose daughter Marisa takes Russian with Bao at North Allegheny Intermediate High School, has witnessed firsthand how much the martial arts tradition means to the Bao family, as well as Bao's dedication.
“It depends really on like homework and stuff,” Bao said. “My parents are school first, then martial arts. If I don't have a lot, then I can go up to six or seven days a week, depending on if I have a competition.”
Brittany Goncar is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.