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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Autistic Jisoo Kim wins gold at World Para Taekwondo Championships

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U.S. national team member Jisoo Kim, right, celebrates with the American flag after winning gold at the World Para Taekwondo Championships last month. [Courtesy of Jisoo Kim]

Jisoo Kim, a 35-year-old Korean-American man with autism, clinched a gold medal in Poomsae at the 10th World Para Taekwondo Championships last month.

Representing the United States at the championships held in Veracruz, Mexico, from September 20 to 24, Kim defeated an experienced Croatian athlete to claim victory in the autism competition (Senior II-A class) within the Poomsae division. Poomsae is a term used in taekwondo to refer to a set of pre-arranged defense-and-attack movements that are performed individually.

The World Para Taekwondo Championships is a para-taekwondo event organized by World Taekwondo and takes place every four years. Over 1,500 athletes from more than 60 countries participated in the competition.

Jisoo showcased his hard-earned skills to secure the gold medal, outperforming other top athletes with autism from various countries.

Insook Kim, Jisoo’s mother, commented, “The Croatian athlete in the final match was highly skilled and physically strong, which made Jisoo nervous and cautious. However, he remained confident and focused until the end, resulting in a favorable outcome. After confirming his victory, he expressed his happiness, saying, ‘Mom, I did it.'”

Diagnosed with autism at the age of three, along with a third-degree intellectual disability and an IQ below 70, Jisoo began his taekwondo journey at six and has continued for 29 years. He holds a fourth-degree black belt certified by Kukkiwon, the World Taekwondo headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. Last year, Jisoo surprised many by earning an international instructor’s license and a judge’s license, both of which are challenging for individuals without disabilities to obtain.

“When Jisoo began taekwondo at age 6, he attended classes while shedding tears for over a year,” his mother, Kim, recounted. “However, after receiving advice from an expert to allow him the time to recognize the need to learn, I persisted in taking him to the classes despite the difficulties. Now, we can see the results.”

“I’m delighted that Jisoo is inspiring hope among many parents of children with autism,” mother Kim remarked. “If you don’t give up, your child won’t give up. There is immense power in perseverance. By instilling confidence in your children and supporting their persistence, they can achieve their goals.”

Kim expressed her hope for International Paralympic taekwondo competitions, which currently focus on physically handicapped athletes, to expand to include athletes with intellectual disabilities. “I want to showcase the capabilities of individuals with intellectual disabilities, and I hope for the day when taekwondo athletes with intellectual disabilities can compete in the Olympics.”

BY SUAH JANG   [jang.suah@koreadaily.com]