By Katherine Gibbs
Zachary Stoker, 22, is an Olympic hopeful who is trying to qualify for the 2020 Olympics for Taekwondo in Tokyo. Participating in the Olympics has been his dream since he was kid and has been trying to qualify since he was 16.
“It will be a great accomplishment, a lifelong dream come true. Even then I’m still not done after I make the Olympics,” said Stoker.
He started karate when he was six and transferred to Taekwondo when he was 10. When he was 12 he started competing internationally and when he turned 14 he started traveling the world for tournaments. “It’s hard work. It’s not easy there is long hours of physical body work, mental body work and conditioning,” said Stoker.
Stoker has dual citizenship with Puerto Rico and the U.S. His parents own World Martial Arts in Belton. When he was 18 he was an alternate for the Puerto Rican team. He climbed the ranks from the junior team to the senior team. He tried to make the U.S. team but came up short so he will miss the 2016 Olympics in Rio but is already working towards the 2020 Olympics for Puerto Rico which started a few weeks ago.
When fighters have major tournaments coming up they can train eight to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. “It’s a lifestyle. It’s a job. It’s a choice that you make in your life,” said Stoker.
Fighters are separated by their weight class and have to go through multiple rounds of fights to get to the final. Matches have three rounds that are two minutes each and have a minute rest in between rounds. You get points depending on where you hit your opponent, whether on the body or head. They now use electronic body protectors which measures pressure per square inch (pps) so they have to hit it with a specific amount of force to be able to get a point. For Stoker’s weight class he has to hit with 44lbs of pressure.
Stoker injured his shoulder and was out for a year but came back to the sport because he loves it. “It’s a contact sport. It’s dangerous. You can get hurt so you have to be able to mentally prepare your body and physically prepare your body to withstand getting hit and hitting somebody else,” Stoker said.