Para taekwondo athletes are #KickingItAtHome

Digital campaign highlights how fighters are overcoming barriers from the coronavirus pandemic by training at home 25 Mar 2020
Taekwondo athletes don't need much equipment to train for their sport
ⒸPekka Sairanen
By Lee Reaney | For World Taekwondo and IPC

High-performance Para athletes around the world are getting creative with their workouts to stay on course for Tokyo 2020, which has been postponed to next year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With most confined to home, the World Taekwondo has come up with a unique initiative to ensure that their fighters remain fit, connected and motivated. They have launched a digital campaign #KickingItAtHome to show how fighters are coping with the global situation, and videos are being posted on World Para Taekwondo's Facebook page.

“As taekwondo can be practiced pretty much anywhere with minimal equipment, (there is) no special support (needed) for training,” said World Taekwondo’s Para Taekwondo Director Olof Hansson. “(To prove the point), we started asking our athletes to share their training videos with us on social media.”

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. 

The first video of the #KickingItAtHome campaign came from Spain’s world and European champion Alejandro Vidal Alvarez. His post reached over 50,000 people in less than four days.

Athletes from nearly every continent have submitted videos to the campaign. World Taekwondo hopes to highlight every athlete who has already qualified for the Paralympic Games – and those that still have the opportunity to do so. 

“It’s great,” said Hansson. “Keep the videos coming!”

Training at the “epicentre”

Italy became the new epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak after it surpassed China in the fatality toll in March, and the government locked down the entire country in an attempt to battle the virus. 

For Italian athletes such as 2018 European champion Antonino Bossolo, the lockdown prevented him from training at fitness clubs, gyms, or even from going for a run around the block. 

“It’s not easy, because I can’t go to the gym to train,” Bossolo said. “But I’m trying to do something at home to keep me in training (form).

“My area is stable, but we are still in the red zone and cannot leave the house except for basic necessities. The government has asked us to stay home to limit the (spread of the) infection.”

But he showed how he is staying positive and healthy at home.

The USA’s Evan Medell, the No. 1-ranked fighter in the men’s over 75 kg division, knows he has to adjust his training and goals given the situation. 

But he also has to find a way to support himself outside the sport.

“The bars and restaurants closing really affected me because I was a waiter, but now I’m laid off,” he revealed. 

“With gyms being closed down, I can’t weightlift like I normally do, so I’ve been using a body weight workout and resistance bands instead,” Medell said. “The goal is still (to) keep improving as much as possible through the crisis.”

Still, different challenges

Training at home, without the assistance of a trainer or proper medical facilities, can be quite a challenge. Ask Ukraine’s six-time world champion Vika Marchuk. 

Marchuk needs work done on one of her knees before she can resume full training. With quarantine measures just being introduced in Ukraine, that could prove to be tricky.

Still, she manages to train at home and was able to do stadium runs. 

“UKRCENTER (part of the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee) sent us to quarantine and that was the right decision,” said Marchuk. “With the leg, there is a bit of a problem. It will take time to heal and it is necessary for (medical assistance).”

African champion Rajae Akermach from Morocco, currently based in Germany, is away from her friends and family.

“I’m under quarantine here (in Germany), so I can’t go to the gym,” said Akermach. “I stay in touch with my coach and do my exercises at home.”

Training takes her mind off the loneliness of living abroad – and the boredom.

“Everything is closed (and) we can’t go to work,” she said. “Now I’m far from my family, I live alone, and I’ve been at home for two weeks. I hope it passes quickly.”