Olympians from all over the world are competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and American athletes, who come from just about every state, will also be “going for the Gold.” However, with these games, the state of Texas has something (else) to brag about. Every member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Taekwondo team hails from the Lone Star state. More on this team, later.
Dr. Rajesh Arakal, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute, is also an enthusiastic martial arts practitioner. In a recent interview, he explained the difference between taekwondo and other martial arts.
“When I was in medical school, there was a dojo where a lot of us medical students, residents and doctors would attend,” he said. “We would meet twice a week for three to four hours, training for taekwondo and mixed martial arts. It was my first opportunity to be exposed to taekwondo and I truly appreciate the art form.
“Historically, taekwondo originated in Korea,” Dr. Arakal noted. “It incorporated the countryside tools of the native farmers as a protection against invaders from Japan. As for karate, this originally came from Japan.
“In many ways, taekwondo is a ‘circular’ sport. It’s a lot about balance. Because Koreans were somewhat smaller than say the Japanese, they required moves that would increase their reach. It became a sport that emphasized kicking – specifically round-kicks – so that the athlete could have a great arch of penetration when fighting an opponent. It negated the shorter stature of the people who were practicing.”
The Team of Texans
Dr. Arakal is excited about Team USA and it is made up of four skilled practitioners of this ancient martial art. The Team USA website offers the specifics on this all-Texan team:
At 37 years old, Steven Lopez , from Sugarland, Texas is the most decorated taekwondo athlete the United States has ever produced. He won his first world title in 2001 as a lightweight, and then again in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009 as a welterweight, making him the first taekwondo fighter to win five world championships. He won Olympic gold medals in 2000 and 2004 and bronze in 2008.
Lopez went to the Games for a fourth time in 2012, but an ankle fracture suffered two weeks before the competition left him unable to compete at 100 percent, and Lopez lost in the first round.
Jackie Galloway, a native of Wylie, Texas, who has dual citizenship, was just 14 years old when she was first named to the Mexican national taekwondo team. She was an alternate for that country’s Olympic team in 2012, but after London she returned to the United States and was named to the national team for the first time in 2014.
Galloway is currently a sophomore at Southern Methodist University, where she is studying mechanical engineering. She is No. 3 in the WTF Olympic rankings.
Paige McPherson — whose nickname is “McFierce” — was the youngest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Taekwondo Team when she won a bronze medal in London. She is now 25 years old
McPherson’s accomplishments in 2015 included a bronze medal at the world championships in May and a gold medal at the Pan American Games. She defeated teammate Cheyenne Lewis 5-3 in the Olympic trials to advance to the qualification tournament. McPherson, of Abilene, Texas, is currently No. 7 in the WTF Olympic rankings.
Making his Olympic debut at 28, Stephen Lambdin, from Colleyville, Texas was named the 2010 USA Taekwondo Male Athlete of the Year. He is the No. 10 ranked heavyweight in the world.
Lambdin, who was the 2004 junior world championships bronze medalist, advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2015 world championships and took second in the Pan Am Games Team Trials in 2015.
What Must This All-Texas Taekwondo Team Do to Win a Gold Medal?
“In order to score points in taekwondo, the athlete must land clean kicks and have precise form,” Dr. Arakal said. “Making sure that the participant has sound contact, without getting hit, is also important for racking up points.
“In order to make it to the Olympic level, these athletes from Texas are clearly masters of the sport. I am looking forward to watching and spurring them on,” he said.
Back Injuries Resulting From
“Any sport that revolves around significant force being generated in the lower torso – round-house kicks, spinning kicks and the like – results in a great deal of impact on the lower lumbar region,” he said. “A lot of the training for taekwondo focuses on core conditioning and building abdominal strength.
“There is a substantial force on the lower lumbar region because a lot of the moves are quick rotations. However, someone who has practiced taekwondo over the years has developed significant muscle strength, and this helps to prevent injuries.
“However, as we all know, sometimes this training is not enough,” Dr. Arakal noted. “And athletes do get hurt.”
An Olympic sport, particularly one with the cache of an “all-Texan” team will likely drive interest in the sport to many new athletes, some of whom are children with developing muscles. What does Dr. Arakal suggest for parents to do to keep their kids safe when participating in this sport?
“I would encourage all parents whose children are interested in martial arts to pursue this,” he said. “It’s a sport that teaches discipline and reserve and it encourages someone to learn to control their body in space. This is great for a youngster to learn.
“However, it has to be age-specific,” he said. “When they do their forms or spar, they should be encouraged to avoid moves that are more appropriate for advanced practitioners. When they are young, martial arts athletes must learn the basics first. The basic forms of taekwondo rely on foundational techniques which must be continually reinforced.
“Such moves as the spinning kicks, for example, can lead to ankle and knee injuries when the athlete lands awkwardly. For youngsters, it is very important that their moves are commensurate with their skill level.”
If you would like to hear the complete interview with Dr. Arakal, click on SpineTalk podcast below:
If watching the Olympics motivates you to boost your physical activity and you tweak your back in the process, contact the back specialists at Texas Back Institute for gold-medal treatment!