Pauline Louise Lopez makes competing in taekwondo look easy now, but starting out in combat sports required some convincing on her father's part.
Lopez is a second-generation taekwondo jin who has reaped accolades in numerous tournaments here and abroad. She is now setting her sights on winning a second gold medal in the 29th Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur later this month.
The Los Angeles-born Lopez decided to learn taekwondo at the age of 9 when she found out her father, former Philippine team member Efren Lopez Sr., excelled in the sport.
“I knew my father did taekwondo but I didn't know he was in the national team,” the 21-year-old told ABS-CBN News in the national team's recent training at Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila. “So I bugged him, 'I want to do taekwondo.' I was very much tomboyish.”
Like any parent, Efren Sr. didn’t wish his daughter to get hurt, but the younger Lopez was persistent.
“At first he said, 'No. You're not doing taekwondo, you're gonna get hurt.’ I think I wasn't able to convince him with my word, rather with what he saw on the mat or the ring. He saw potential and felt I was passionate about it,” Lopez recalled.
SEA Games champion Pauline Lopez opens up about how she started out in taekwondo. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
She would join several US-based competitions later on and, because of her skills level and her father’s background as a national athlete, the Philippine Taekwondo Association took notice.
It served as a big break for Lopez, who didn't mind traveling thousands of kilometers from America to join the national team.
“When I started out in taekwondo, I was representing the Philippines and also living in the States. So it was very hard for me to have a normal high school life because I wasn't just staying in school and competing within perimeter, I was flying out here and missing 3 months of school then going back there studying. I didn't really have a break,” she said. “So that's sacrifice.”
“I took 2 years off of my college school years just because I wanted to train and pursue taekwondo for a little bit then go back to school. So that's something I gave up,” Lopez added.
All the hard work has paid off. She won gold in the 2014 Asian Youth Games and was later chosen as UAAP Season 79 Rookie of the Year as part of Ateneo de Manila University's varsity team. In 2015, Lopez took the gold in the Singapore SEA Games. Recently, she picked up a first-place finish in the 2017 Korean Open.
This month, she is due to defend her SEA Games title in the under 57-kilogram division.
“We actually started training back in January, because before the SEA Games we had the world championships and the Korean Open. The preparations started then. So right now, we're just focusing on sparring, we're lifting, we're using all of our body, just so we can perform well,” Lopez said.
Looking back, she said she wouldn’t have been successful in her sport without her father's influence.
“I can't even express the words but I know he's very proud of me even if he doesn't show it,” Lopez said. “Of course, you know he's tough on me, but if he wasn't I wouldn't where I am now.”
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)