I have been in London this last week for the World Para Taekwondo Championships, 7th edition. It was attended by 59 participating countries. It has two disciplines competed: sparring for those with various arm impairments, including those with no arms at all; and there are Taekwondo form competitions for those with Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy.
I had four major takeaways:
Rwanda players are incredible in Taekwondo! Rwanda’s journey in Para Taekwondo has been very short with only having competed on two occasions in the past seven months. In fact our six Para Taekwondo players only began their official training in March of this year, just three weeks before their first event, the 2nd Africa Para Taekwondo Open. There, they were competing against fifteen nations from Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa. We were able to host that event here in Kigali, Rwanda. Out of those players we actually won six medals and bizarrely the championship trophy! Even with those great results, I must admit that I doubted the possibility of such success in the World Championships, especially in the overwhelming grandeur of London for those that had never left Rwanda! Instead, five of our six players all made it to the quarter finals. To get there, they defeated players from Russia, South Korea, England, and other powerhouse countries. Then to my great surprise and delight, our only female player, Consolee, became Rwanda’s first ever World Champion in any sport. As well we won a bronze medal. What can I say, except that, truly, Rwanda’s great sport is Taekwondo!
People without hands and arms inspire me.
Meet Dejana Backo. She is a champion from Serbia. Not only did she win a silver medal at the World Championships this year, but she is truly a great champion of life! She was born with no arms but that does not stop her from living. Beyond being an elite world athlete, she has a designer line of clothes and is an internationally renowned artist! She does all of this with her feet! She is an amazingly beautiful young woman who not only has overcome her disability, but has now achieved much more in life with two limbs than most could with four!
Para Taekwondo Competitors are Heroes and Heroines!
Retired US Army Major Anthony Smith is a great hero and, as well, Taekwondo Champion. I had the privilege of first meeting him in Kigali this April where he won a medal in Para Taekwondo for the US national team. I liked him from the beginning. He can be tough and raw, but he is passionate about life, as well he should be after an event in Iraq that should have killed him several times over. Nicknamed A-train it takes more than an rocket propelled grenade to put this good man down. As his unit in Iraq came under fire, he paused to force them into a bunker as they hesitated. In that moment he was shot through with an RPG! He should have died. It took out his hip, kidney, and lower half of his right arm. He stood there, surprised, and instead of taking it lying down, he picked up his weapon with his only remaining arm and returned fire. He then was shot five more times. He should have died. He did finally go horizontal and when the medics came they thought him deceased and bagged him. Forty-five minutes later they happened to notice his bag rising and falling with breathing. He should have died. Shocked they popped open his body bag and gave him a transfusion, of the wrong blood type! He should have died. They got him to Germany and, after many months in a coma for healing, he woke up to live as never before! He is a Master of martial arts and teaches at his club, an avid one armed golfer, a preacher, and lives his life to the fullest. Truly, you have to ask yourself, upon meeting he who should be dead but is so full of life, when you are going to start truly living!
Joy of competing expressed by those with Down Syndrome destroys me.
These young men have unquenchable joy and are limitless in encouragement. They won the gold and silver medals at this world championships and are from Honduras and El Salvador. I watched with tears them compete against, cheer for, and celebrate each other with the emotions and passion for sport of twenty men! I watched until I bowed my head, ashamed that I live my life with pettiness and jealousy. Yet, I was inspired by them to live as they do, loving deeply and rejoicing greatly!
This is the best of everything that sport could ever be and should always strive to be. This is Para Taekwondo.