Go­ing for Gold

16-year-old Lexi Hampo, a third-de­gree black belt, takes top in­ter­na­tional hon­ors

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - News -

W hile most teenagers were spend­ing their sum­mer on the lake or learn­ing how to drive their first set of wheels, 16-year-old Lexi Hampo was spar­ring for gold medals on an­other con­ti­nent at the World Taek­wondo Cham­pi­onships.

But, she would rather peo­ple think of her as just a nor­mal kid – who could pos­si­bly kick their butts.

Taek­wondo, which is of­ten con­fused with its Ja­panese cousin, Karate, is a mar­tial art de­vel­oped in Korea in the 1940s by Maj. Gen. Choi Hong Hi as a dis­ci­pline and self de­fense sys­tem for his troops in the South Korea in­fantry. The sport was rec­og­nized as the most pop­u­lar mar­tial art in 1989 and be­came an of­fi­cial Olympic sport at the 2000 Syd­ney Games. Hampo be­gan her train­ing at the age of 3 at a lo­cal do­jang (gym) in Foun­tain Lake.

“I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber life with­out Taek­wondo,” Hampo said. “My mother en­rolled my two older sib­lings and I guess they just threw me in the mix and I held my own.”

When she isn’t in school at the Arkansas School for Math­e­mat­ics, Sciences, and the Arts, Lexi and her fam­ily re­lax at the Foun­tain Lake home they lov­ingly call Ham­poland.

“We are a close fam­ily and we are all weird and creative in our own ways,” she said, with a laugh. “There is rarely a dull mo­ment around our house, I love it, but I’m prob­a­bly the best fighter.”

Hampo quickly moved up the ranks in Taek­wondo — graded by belt color — and has been a black belt for the past five years. Earn­ing a black belt is as hard as one would think it is.

A year-long test­ing reg­i­men is re­quired to re­ceive the first of nine de­grees of the rank of black belt. Upon re­ceiv­ing the ninth de­gree,

the stu­dent be­comes a grand mas­ter. There are only nine liv­ing grand masters in the World Taek­wondo As­so­ci­a­tion, and one of them is an­other Hot Springs na­tive, Scott McNeely.

“You have a great op­por­tu­nity in this sport to learn from great teach­ers and role mod­els. Know­ing that there is a grand mas­ter from your home­town makes you want achieve the most that you can,” she said.

She earned her third-de­gree black belt two weeks be­fore the world cham­pi­onships.

“Pass­ing that test re­ally boosted my con­fi­dence go­ing into the world cham­pi­onships. It is an in­cred­i­bly hard test and an in­cred­i­ble honor to reach this rank.”

The cham­pi­onships were held in Coven­try, Eng­land, July 12-14 in an old ice skat­ing rink with no air conditioning.

“I think the hu­mid­ity in the gym gave the com­pe­ti­tion an old world feel,” Hampo said. “The tem­per­a­ture didn’t re­ally have an ef­fect on me. That gym had noth­ing on an Arkansas sum­mer.” The South­ern ad­van­tage paid off. Thou­sands com­peted for the chance to make it to the in­ter­na­tional stage and only 45 that got the chance to rep­re­sent the U.S.

Hampo qual­i­fied to com­pete in in­di­vid­ual and team cat­e­gories, and her spar­ring team beat out 14 other teams to take home the gold medal, be­com­ing the first Amer­i­can team to win on its first trip to the tour­na­ment.

“It’s a great feel­ing to win at that level,” she said. “It was the trip of a life­time, but bring­ing home a gold medal was the real ac­com­plish­ment.”

Af­ter the tour­na­ment, Hampo got the chance to re­lax and be a tourist around Eng­land and Scot­land.

“The Scot­tish High­lands were beau­ti­ful. I saw at least a dozen cas­tles in one day.”

To cover the ex­penses of the trip, she started an IndieGoGo cam­paign and raised sev­eral thou­sand dollars to donors with the prom­ise of free lessons in ex­change. “This sport has en­grained in me a re­spect for self and for oth­ers,” Hampo said, “I love that I get to share such a dis­ci­plined art with oth­ers now.”

As for the rest of her sum­mer va­ca­tion, Hampo said she is back to the ev­ery­day pas­times of spend­ing her time with fam­ily and teach­ing Taek­wondo. Though her ex­pe­ri­ence in the world cham­pi­onships has left her with mem­o­ries she won’t soon for­get.

Lexi Hampo, 16, of Hot Springs, demon­strates a kick. Hampo re­cently won a gold medal in Coven­try, Eng­land, in the Tae Kwon Do World Cham­pi­onships.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.