Victoria Stambaugh of Woodlands overcomes setbacks to reach Olympics


Preparing for the Olympics is not just a physical pursuit. For Victoria Stambaugh, it’s also mental, emotional and spiritual.

That’s why she’s only reserving one session a day to train for this summer’s Olympics, during which she will compete in taekwondo, Korean martial arts, representing Puerto Rico.

Stambaugh, 28, knows not to push his body beyond its breaking point. She chooses to train smarter and more effectively.

It’s a lesson she learned the hard way.

In the past, Stambaugh trained twice a day and ran in between.

“I was obsessed with training and obsessed with taekwondo,” said Stambaugh, who lives at The Woodlands. “It was not healthy. As athletes, you need a balance. I was not training smart.

Yet, looking back, Stambaugh sees it all as a blessing that got her exactly where she needs to be – ready to give her all for the 2021 Olympics.

“I am ready to do it,” she said. “I waited.”

A family thing

Born in Pasadena, Stambaugh began training taekwondo at the age of 8, after trying judo and karate. Her father Frank Stambaugh was a professional boxer and wanted her to learn self defense.

When her cousins ​​enrolled in taekwondo, her parents enrolled her and her three brothers.

“It was a family affair,” said Stambaugh. “That’s one of the reasons I really enjoyed it.

She earned a blue belt in her first competition at the age of 9 and at 14 she joined the United States Junior National Team and competed at the 2008 World Junior Championships in Turkey.

The following year, Stambaugh made part of the United States national team and competed at the 2009 world championships. She was the youngest competitor on the senior team and defeated the current United States Olympian for the place. .

Everything was falling into place. She began to prepare for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

And then his plans fell apart.

Olympic Games at destination

In 2010, at the age of 16, Stambaugh tore his right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), an injury common to young athletes.

However, her operation did not go well.

“I knew after the operation that I would never be the same again,” she said.

Stambaugh rehabilitated his knee and resumed training. Then, she learned that the American team had decided not to enter their weight class for the Olympic qualifiers in 2011. Stambaugh understood their decision but was still frustrated.

When the president of the Puerto Rican Taekwondo Federation invited her to join the country’s national team, Stambaugh jumped at the chance to represent where her parents were born. Once again, she was linked to the Olympics.

Then she tore her left ACL.

“I said to God, ‘I’m quitting,'” Stambaugh remembers. “Within a millisecond, a trainer came up to me and said, ‘Don’t give up. Do not abandon. You will come back stronger.

She took it as a sign.

When Stambaugh returned to Houston, she was referred to Dr. Walt Lowe, chair and professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

He is also the Medical Director of the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute, which helps athletes recover from injury and return to sport faster.

On Stambaugh’s first visit, Dr Lowe assessed his left knee and was preparing for treatment. Just before leaving the office, Stambaugh asked, “Can you check my right knee as well?”

“His face said it all,” Stambaugh remembers. “He looked at his assistant. Then he looked at me. He said, ‘Your right knee is worse than your left knee. You are going to need surgery on both.

She felt relieved. Finally someone understood.

recoil after recoil

Stambaugh was convinced she was in good hands with Dr Lowe.

At the same time, Lowe knew she would be a perfect patient, motivated and determined to make a good recovery.

Lowe is the team’s chief medical officer for the Texans, Rockets and Cougars. However, Stambaugh stands out from him.

“My boy, does this girl have courage,” he remarked. “You run over Victoria and she comes right back.”

Stambaugh knew that operations would delay her for a while.

In 2012, she had surgery for her left knee, followed by two more for her right knee in 2013.

She re-educated at the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute at Texas Medical Center with physiotherapist Orlando Valle.

“He got me back,” she said. “And he gave me a lot of confidence.”

In 2014, she returned to compete and won the silver medal at the Central American and Caribbean Games. In 2015, she placed ninth at the Pan American Games and won silver at the Trinidad Tobago Open.

Her prayer, Stambaugh said, was to follow God’s will – and she felt like he was leading her to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

In qualifying for the Olympics, however, the tide turned.

After winning the first two fights, Stambaugh was confident to conquer the third. But illegal moves in the match cost him the title.

“In short, I lost by one point,” remembers Stambaugh. “It was devastating. I felt robbed. I thought, ‘How could this have happened?’ I was shocked.”

She was beyond anger. “I hated taekwondo at the time,” she said.

But Stambaugh received another sign. A message in his daily devotion: “Not now. Wait for the gift that God has promised you.

“I was in tears,” Stambaugh said. “I really felt that someone had spoken to me. It was not my time. I needed to wait.

The next day, she started training for Tokyo.

Training for Tokyo

“Nothing is a coincidence,” said Stambaugh. “Nothing is by accident.”

Without her loss in 2016, she would never have met her coach.

“I was training in my garage,” said Stambaugh. “I didn’t have a stable coach or a taekwondo coach.”

In 2016, she received a message that Young In Bang was opening a school in its own backyard.

“It’s too good to be true,” thought Stambaugh.

But of course, Master Bang opened Bang Elite Sport Taekwondo in Conroe. He has a 40-year career, competed in his native Korea and then served as the head coach of Mexico’s national team for two decades.

“He’s a very prestigious coach,” said Stambaugh. “When I realized he was in Houston I was like ‘Whoa’.”

Stambaugh has won numerous awards under his leadership.

Still, his knee continued to be a problem. In 2018, she underwent a fifth surgery on her left knee meniscus, the cartilage that acts as a cushion between the tibia and the thigh.

Then, in 2019, Stambaugh once again tore his meniscus at the Pan Am Games. She vividly remembers when it happened – in the middle of the fight. But she still finished and won ninth place.

“It was really hard for me,” she says. “The doctors there thought it was a sprain.”

Instead of letting them treat the injury, she decided to wait until she got home to Dr. Lowe’s.

At six months of qualifying for the Olympics, Dr Lowe has removed most of his menisci, leaving only about 20 to 30 percent.

“How am I going to be an athlete? Stambaugh wondered. “How can I even go for a run or a walk?” “

Worried about having to give up, she turned to prayer again. And again, she felt called to continue.

Dr Lowe admires Stambaugh’s persistence.

“You have to be smart and grow from experience – and with it, it happened,” he said. “She is one of those people who will never be forgotten. It’s that intensity, that resilience.

COVID can’t stop it

Stambaugh signed up with a sports psychologist.

“I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. I felt like I couldn’t do this unless it was a miracle, ”she said.

In March 2020, six months after her sixth knee surgery, Stambaugh competed and qualified for Tokyo.

“The next day everything stopped,” she said.

It didn’t take long for Stambaugh to learn that the games would be postponed for a year. But instead of being discouraged, she decided to start a school with her fiancé Juan Cernada and their friend Ahamid Aljaafreh.

Cernada and Aljaafreh had spoken of starting a parkour academy, and Stambaugh urged them to follow their dream.

After learning she would have extra time during the pandemic, she decided to join the business – and add taekwondo.

Their school, “Believe. To commit. Achieve. Taekwondo and Parkour ”has been taking place in The Woodlands for almost a year.

The academy’s name comes from the Bible verse that propels Stambaugh forward, despite the odds: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will be successful.”

Stambaugh spends about three days a week working with, training, and teaching students. Being a leader for them helps them stay positive.

“It keeps me on my toes,” she said.

After teaching, Stambaugh heads to Bang Elite Sport Taekwondo. Tuesday and Thursday she spends two hours at the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Performance Lab in Shepherd Square.

Since the lockdown began, Stambaugh has focused on slowing down and working smarter. She also uses visual training, studies her opponents and devotes time to mindfulness, crafting her game plan.

“It’s the key to my longevity,” she said. “I keep my body strong and I don’t overdo it.”

With time to heal and a path forward to fight, Stambaugh feels like she has found what she has been looking for all along.

“For me, it’s a miracle,” she said.

Lindsay Peyton is a Houston-based freelance writer.

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