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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Taekwondo amputee still gets his kicks

From: Gazette

Ben Schwenk doesn’t remember a lot about the worst 11 days of his life.

After overcoming bone cancer, he underwent 17 surgeries in less than two weeks in 1990, as doctors unsuccessfully tried to halt a relentless staph infection that turned his left knee into the size of a basketball.

His leg was amputated above the knee, but a radical operation preserved his calf muscle, quadriceps and hamstring — kept together by a steel plate and eight screws. And it opened the door for an improbable taekwondo career.

The Air Academy High School graduate, competing with a specially designed prosthetic leg, has quickly climbed the ladder in the world’s most practiced martial art, needing only 21 months to attain a blue belt — seven rankings below a black belt.

Schwenk, 37, took up taekwondo in 2007 alongside his adopted son, Daniel, hoping the endeavor would atone for his failed bid at disabled skiing and provide discipline for a “big, tough kid” accustomed to bullying others in the foster care system.

He said his son “put his foot down. He wanted nothing to do with taekwondo.” Making matters worse, Schwenk, training under 2000 Olympian Barb Kunkel at the Academy of Life and Leadership Taekwondo in Colorado Springs, struggled performing some kicks and stances, and his lateral movement was limited.

A new prosthetic leg from Mandy Myers of Colorado Springs-based Horizon Prosthetics increased Schwenk’s flexibility so much, the self-proclaimed “Transformer” can swing his left shoe 6 inches above his head and snap boards like they’re toothpicks.

As Schwenk got better, he noticed his 12-year-old son, a notch below him at purple belt, developed “a heart to do things for others. Instead of focusing on him, he’s focusing on others.” Plus his wife, Michelle, started taekwondo, and she already has advanced to orange belt — the highest beginner level.

“I don’t make every stance look absolutely perfect, but we’re doing it,” said Schwenk, who placed first in forms and second in board breaking at the Rocky Mountain Open last year at the Olympic Training Center.

If taekwondo becomes a Paralympic sport, Schwenk maintains he could qualify because his powerful front kicks and axe kicks — his prosthetic leg often generates more strength than his right leg — are enough to compensate for inconsistent roundhouse kicks.

His biggest problem? Sometimes, his prosthetic leg falls off during practice.

“I don’t think that’s good,” he quipped. “Moving around can be really challenging. If (his prosthetic leg) has to be synchronized (with his right leg) or if it has to be a certain form, that is my biggest challenge.”

Schwenk called his prosthetic leg a blessing in disguise.

“I wouldn’t be who I am without it,” he said. “I wouldn’t have experienced so many other things. I wouldn’t have met my wife. I would have never gotten here. … I lost my leg, but I gained my life.”

~武德为首, Martial Art Virtue comes first

1 comment:

  1. try a tess belt as well as a silicone sleeve