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Graduate honors father’s memory with martial arts success, LU degree

As a freshman, Tykeyah Henderson made two promises to her father, Arthur, before he died of stomach cancer at 58 on Feb. 19, 2015 — to win a National Collegiate Taekwondo Association (NCTA) championship in fighting, which she accomplished that spring, and to complete her degree in kinesiology from Liberty University’s School of Health Sciences.

Henderson’s mom, Violet, and twin sisters, Nakiyah and Shakiyah, were in Lynchburg, Va., on Saturday to see her walk with the Class of 2019 at Liberty’s 46th Commencement.

“Graduating is more than just earning my degree for myself. This was my father’s last request that I fulfilled,” Henderson said.

She considered her dad to be her best friend.

“The first year without him was the hardest. I missed his heart, missed his encouragement, missed seeing him,” Henderson said. “My dad sacrificed a lot for me, and I never took that lightly. He was always pointing us back to Christ.”

Likewise, Henderson made tremendous sacrifices, including quitting the taekwondo team — after two second-place finishes at nationals — to spend more time on her studies.

“Taekwondo was definitely my getaway that kept me going,” Henderson said. “My dad was the first person to introduce me to fighting — starting with karate and eventually transitioning into taekwondo and mixed martial arts — and he coached me in a lot of it. I always looked forward to going to practice, leaving my stresses at the door, and focusing on improving.”

Without it, she had to lean on the Lord even more for strength.

“Balancing two jobs and all my upper-level courses this semester was a real struggle for me,” Henderson said. “However, I was never in it alone. Even in the midst of pain and circumstances, God doesn’t abandon us. He has been and forever will be faithful.”

Henderson interned at Blue Ridge Therapy Associates, worked as a teacher’s assistant at Mary Bethune Academy Day Care, and then found her true calling as a rehabilitation technician at Rehab Associates of Central Virginia (RACV).

At RACV, she works alongside physical therapists to assist patients with their exercises.

“I love my patients, and I have gotten to know a lot of them personally,” she said. “They always see me smiling, and they’ve been so good to me. It’s such a blessing to me.”

Liberty taekwondo Head Coach Tom Childress said Henderson has a completely different demeanor on the mat.

“Outside the ring, she’s a nurturer. She looks after people and takes care of them and wants to see everybody do well,” he said. “When she gets in the ring, she comes at you full force. She’s scary, the exact opposite of how she is as a person. Sparring in practice, I think even the guys were intimidated by her.”

Successfully completing her degree, like winning a national championship in taekwondo, has given her confidence to conquer any challenges the world has to offer.

“All that happened to me in school makes me ready to take on whatever is going to happen next,” Henderson said. “He has brought me through it all. I have nothing to fear.”

“Losing her father so early on was such a hard thing in her journey, but it’s a testimony to what an amazing person she is,” Childress added. “Her faith never wavered, and God saw her through the trials. The future is very bright for her, and her potential is unlimited. Wherever she sets her sights, I’m sure she will succeed.”