Seven years ago, Marlene Beverly Tucay, a cardiac nurse at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was newly divorced and looking for something to engage her then-11-year-old daughter over summer vacation. She thought of a nearby martial arts school, and on impulse, enrolled her daughter in karate class. For a month, Tucay watched her daughter from the sidelines. “I saw adults there, too—they looked like they were having fun and learning something new with no pressure whatsoever.” That was enough to entice her to try a class. Now she’s a regular there three or four days a week after work, most of the time with her daughter. While other mothers may complain about sparring with their teenage daughters, Tucay loves it. Both mom and daughter have earned their second degree black belts. Talk about spending quality time with your kid!
“A lot of people enroll their kids and then they take it up, too, just as I did,” says Tucay. One aspect of the program that really appeals to her (and other parents) is how it keeps kids focused on their schoolwork. In fact, to stay enrolled in martial arts, students must sign a contract that they will maintain A’s and B’s. Another big plus is the sense that the martial arts community is just one big extended family. “We watch one another’s kids grow up. We go to parties—not at bars (most of us don’t drink anymore), but at someone’s house. We eat healthy food. We’re all happy, laughing, very warm with each other. Karate has improved my quality of life in every way possible.”
Indeed. Before she took up karate, Tucay’s life was a grind. It was about work and family; that was it. She was stressed to the max and in serious pain. A year of ICU duty had left her with a back ailment caused by lifting and turning bariatric patients who outweighed her by as much 100 to 150 pounds. “Karate taught me how to get relief from all the pressure, and because it strengthened my core muscles, my back pain is gone—completely!” There are many other physical benefits, too. Her martial arts program requires her to do other exercise to round out her overall fitness, and Tucay goes to the gym to lift weights, plus she runs regularly. “I’ve always been athletic, but I never thought I could do all this,” she says, amazed that she has the strength to do pushups and the speed and endurance to run three eight-minute miles. “I’m healthier than when I was 20 years old, and I feel younger now than I did then!”
At that time, Tucay was still in the Philippines, where she grew up in a family of healthcare workers (her dad is a veterinarian, his sister is a pediatrician and another aunt is a dean of nursing). Her nursing career has spanned two decades and three continents. She began as a cardiac nurse in the Philippines, did a two-year stint in Saudi Arabia, then returned to her homeland to teach, but soon went back to bedside nursing. In 2003, a recruiter brought her to Florida and her current job, where she works weekends. “My daughter goes to her dad on weekends, and I’m there for her during her school days.”
And, of course, in karate class. Besides the joy of sharing a pastime with her daughter, Tucay insists that karate has made her a better person—and a better nurse. It’s not only because her moods are improved, thanks to those endorphins, or because she’s more fit and therefore less stressed. During the last three to five minutes of every class, instructors pass along life lessons: how to be consistent, how to be patient, how to have a positive outlook. Tucay says, “You get to a certain age and you think you know everything. Karate has shown me that I don’t. I’m always learning. I’m no longer just a nurse, an employee, a parent. I’m a well-rounded individual, and I’m able to count all my blessings.”