Sensei Leigha Shellhaas

Program Location
Chicago, IL

How many years have you worked with Kids Kicking Cancer?
2 years

How did you begin with martial arts?
I started training in martial arts when I was 18 years old. I was searching for a way to deal with some anxiety, and I fell in love with the sport.

What lessons have you learned over the years from practicing or teaching martial arts?
When I started martial arts, my goal was to gain a little confidence. Through amazing instructors and new friendships, I was encouraged to push myself out of my comfort zone and focus on how powerful I already was. I became a confident and empowered person. I have learned that through focus, hard work, and being surrounded by supportive people, anyone can reach their goals. I will forever be grateful for the self-confidence and discipline that martial arts has instilled in me.

What inspired you to join Kids Kicking Cancer (KKC) as a martial arts therapist?
Having personally experienced the mind-body connection that is such a distinct part of martial arts, for years I had the desire to use my Psychology background with my martial arts training. I came across KKC online, and was hooked. I was excited to find that KKC so beautifully blends the emotional with the physical. The stories of the children on the KKC website were so incredible, and I quickly saw the value that KKC was bringing into the kids lives, however, the most amazing part was the impact that these children were having on the world around them. I knew very quickly that I wanted to be a part of this organization.

What do you love most about Kids Kicking Cancer’s mission?
I love that KKC does not just teach martial arts, but they teach empowerment. For kids who have so few opportunities to exercise their power externally due to their medical difficulties, KKC works on a deeper level to empower internally. Regardless of the external circumstances, the kids learn how to use their power.

Do you have a favorite KKC story or experience you would like to share?
I have been working one-on-one virtually with a student now for 6 months. The first few months, our classes were very quiet. He was sullen often didn’t feel well enough to do much physical exercise, and was rarely excited about our sessions. We started just chatting about some of his favorite things to do, and I started sharing silly stories about my fat cat, and he started opening up. It took a few months, but he now starts class focused and excited about what he is learning. He is so motivated to learn quickly because he is ready to earn his next belt! He is an inspiration and joy to work with every week as he continues to grow and gain confidence!

What do you do for fun?
I love hanging out and playing games with my husband and family! I come from a giant family, and we love to get together! I also love being outside in the sunshine. I enjoy working in the yard, or just sitting in my hammock reading a good book.

What’s your favorite tradition or holiday?
My favorite holiday is any holiday that involves getting together with my family! I particularly love the 4th of July! My small town has a parade, and my family has a giant cookout with friends at the local fairgrounds before the fireworks show! It combines so many of my favorite things; family, food, sunshine, and beautiful fireworks!

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Help more children find

Power. Peace. Purpose.

Despite the ongoing challenges of the global pandemic, we are committed to empowering one million children to reduce their pain and stress with the help of our evidence-based martial arts therapy.