Spotlight On... Para Taekwondo
It’s a Paralympic summer, but don’t just watch the sports, try them!
Parasport's Spotlight On… series offers a quick glimpse into the world of a Paralympic sport – the thoughts, feelings, emotions and behind the scenes details that may be hidden to the outside world.
In the next part of the series, we spoke to 51-year-old blind Royal Navy veteran Steve Birkin, who competes for Great Britain at taekwondo.
He told us about his remarkable journey into the sport and why he loves it so much.
Tell us about how you got into taekwondo and your progression to where you are today.
"I lost my sight within the space of a month. I was getting headaches and then less than a month later I was told by my doctors that I had to be registered legally blind.
"All the tests for what it could be came up negative but they eventually discovered it was my body’s own immune system attacking my eyes and that I had tuberculosis of the eye. It’s such a rare thing, you can count on your hands how many times it’s happened around the world.
"Now I have to rely on my peripheral vision. It’s just my luck!
"But what I’ve done since I lost my sight, I would have never been able to do if I hadn’t have lost it. It’s opened up so many avenues to me and it’s completely changed my life.
"When I lost my sight I thought that I needed to do something with my life. I’d done some martial arts before.
"I couldn’t find a club that would take me on but my girlfriend Angela said she would find one for me and she did, Horizon Taekwondo. On my bucket list was to get a black belt in any martial arts, so that was the aim.
"I took to it like a duck to water and loved it. I quickly realised I wanted more than just a black belt.
"It was five years ago now that I started and I’m doing my third Dan in November."
Why taekwondo over other sports?
"It’s a very relaxed atmosphere, unlike maybe some other martial arts which are stricter.
"Everything is about first names. There’s two sides of it, the sparring side and the pattern side.
"There’s no way I can spar but there’s a part of taekwondo that I can excel in. I’ll be a pattern specialist when I get my third Dan and I’ll be able to teach others."
What’s the one thing you now know, that you wish you’d known before getting started in the sport?
"I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for me, I didn’t know what obstacles I’d have in front of me.
"I’d probably focus more on some of the problems I was facing, people didn’t know how to treat me so I’ve had to implement change myself."
What’s been your favourite memory in the sport so far?
"I’d firstly have to say breaking into the GB team and doing my first international competition in 2017. To say that you’ve represented GB in competitions is an absolute honour.
"I was spotted by a GB talent scout at a competition and the following week I was qualifying for the event in Sunderland. The rest is history.
"Then I’d also say getting my first black belt in 2018 too.
"Prior to lockdown I qualified for the European Championships, hopefully I can get to a World Championships and I’d love to compete for ParalympicsGB at the Paralympic Games. That’s the pinnacle."
What's the best thing about taekwondo?
"It’s given me that push to get out of the house.
"It gives you something to look forward to and you know that you’re achieving something too."
What’s something only a taekwondo athlete would know or appreciate?
"A lot of people still think taekwondo is just about kicking. There’s a lot of punching, it is a martial art but it is also a sport.
"There’s more to it than people think. The best thing to do would be to try it out."
What would you say to someone considering trying taekwondo?
"Just give it a go. It’s fantastic for weight loss and building up self-confidence.
"You tune your body up – it’s great for so many things."
Gain an insight into the world of other Paralympic sports by visiting our Spotlight On… series hub page here.
Want to give para taekwondo a try? Check out our club finder!