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Zachary Thompson Brings Home The Gold From Taekwondo Nationals Story by Y. A. Teitelbaum • Photos by Abner Pedraza

Zachary Thompson’s commitment to taekwondo has paid off in a big way. Thompson won the gold medal at the 2017 AAU National Taekwondo Championships in early July in Fort Lauderdale, highlighting a year of huge successes after voluntarily sitting out a year. The Wellington High School freshman, who is a second-degree black belt, dominated at the AAU singleelimination Olympic sparring tournament, where matches consisted of three 90-second rounds. None of Thompson’s opponents made it to the third round. “It was very exciting,” Thompson said. “I was actually amazed I won this.” Taekwondo sparring consists of kicks and punches. A kick to the body is worth two points, and a kick to the head is three points. A punch to the chest area is worth one point. The competitor with the most points wins. Punches to the head are not allowed, nor is grappling, like mixed martial arts or wrestling. A competitor can win the match before the end of the third round if they “point gap” their opponent, by having a lead of at least 20 points. Thompson point-gapped each of his opponents in the 12 to 14 age division (134.6 to 143.3 pounds). However, he had to overcome several obstacles just to continue at a high level. When Thompson was 12 years old, his team decided it was best for him to sit out a year of competitions, but still continue practicing. He was often randomly paired against bigger, stronger and more experienced opponents. That’s a good way to learn, but also could lead to someone becoming discouraged after constantly losing. “I hadn’t had my growth spurt yet,” explained Thompson, who has since developed into a lean and muscular 5-foot-11 and 140 pounds. “Fighting as a 12-year-old in the 12 to 14 division, I 72

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had to fight 13-year-olds and 14-yearolds, and I wasn’t ready to fight them.” Thompson, who graduated from Emerald Cove Middle School, said that sitting out for a year was tough on him mentally. He would train and train, and then go and cheer for his teammates at tournaments. If patience is a virtue, then Thompson is extremely virtuous. “At first, it kind of stung a little bit, but I knew why,” said Thompson, who is now 14. “I didn’t want to quit because I knew I was going to [be able to] do it next year.” But sitting out taught Thompson several key life lessons, and he always kept a positive attitude, a trait he got from his parents. “I learned to be patient and things will go your way,” Thompson said. “If you keep practicing and practicing, you will get better.” Thompson’s start in the sport was fairly typical. He and his younger

brother, Logan, signed up for a fitness academy that included tennis, soccer and taekwondo while living in the Fort Myers area. “I was good at tennis, not soccer,” said Thompson, who was in the third grade at the time. But he really took to taekwondo. The roundhouse kick was his favorite when he first started. Now the axe kick is his preferred kick. “I liked more of the kicking and the punching, and I could learn it for selfdefense if I needed it,” Thompson recalled. “I was kind of on the chunkier side and got picked on.” The taekwondo master invited the brothers to a Saturday practice, and then asked them to sign up for summer classes. They never looked back. For the last two years, since the family moved to Wellington, Thompson has been training six days a week with Master Jung Han at U.S. Pro Tae Kwon Do in Jupiter. Training runs about two hours on Monday through Thursday, and at least two hours on the weekend. He starts out stretching, and then moves to working on the bags, followed by speed drills and sparring, and finishes with strength training. Friday is a day off. Thompson trains with his teammates; his brother Logan, Kristina Teachout and Madison Yan. They are a close-knit group that often trains and travels together. “He’s very dedicated,” Master Han said. “It’s not easy. I see his improvement, and he’s getting more confident.” He had success immediately upon his return to tournament competition, earning the silver medal in the Taekwondo U.S. Open in Las Vegas in January, foreshadowing his summer accomplishments. Over the summer,

Wellington The Magazine October 2017  
Wellington The Magazine October 2017  

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