Swanton, Ohio --
The men and women of the U.S. military frequently travel to distant locations far from home for a variety of reasons, whether to train alongside their military counterparts in partner nations or to support military operations, but when Airman 1st Class Lydia Delmonico, an information technology specialist assigned to the 180th Fighter Wing, traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, she was there to represent her country in a different way. She was there to compete in the International Taekwondo Federation World Championships from July 31 through Aug. 5 as a member of Team USA.
She and her teammates arrived a week prior to the start of the event to train and acclimate to the environment. They followed a strict schedule to prepare themselves. They ensured they woke every morning at the same time they would for the competition and trained for several hours every day in any location they could find. They trained at a local gym, city parks, and even used the hotel ballroom when it was available.
“People would give us funny, sideways looks occasionally, but we were there to train and that’s what we did,” Delmonico said.
In the days leading up to the competition, Delmonico met numerous competitors and judges from all over the world. In the same way that military pilots will exchange patches with pilots from allied and partner nations, Delmonico and her teammates would exchange jackets, hats, gear bags, and other items as souvenirs, building comradery and friendship across nations.
“You meet people there and make these friendships, and you might not see them again until the next world championships, but you’re really excited for the next time you’ll see them,” Delmonico said. “It’s a unique kind of friendship.”
The competition began with individual pattern routines, choreographed movements characterized by the strength and precision of the movements. In her first round of patterns competition, Delmonico faced a second degree black belt who’d competed in the six previous ITF World Championships. This was Delmonico’s first time competing at the World Championship level. Unfortunately, Delmonico lost.
“That was a little bit of a letdown, but my instructor was pleased with my performance,” Delmonico said.
Her next competition was sparring, a scored and judged fight. A sparring match starts with a two-minute round of fighting, followed by a one-minute break, and then another two-minute round of fighting. Delmonico’s first opponent was an Argentinian.
“This is a big competition, and, in Argentina, it’s their national sport,” said Carol Van Zile, a seventh-degree black belt and the owner of Great Lakes Global Taekwondo, where Delmonico trains.
“They (Argentinians) spend all their time training for the sparring, and they are very good at it,” Delmonico said.
Delmonico won the first round, but her opponent won the second round to tie the match, sending the match into sudden death, an additional one-minute round. Delmonico was the only American to take an Argentinian into sudden death, but she wasn’t able to defeat her opponent.
“I’m proud of my performance,” Delmonico said. “It was a good sparring match. I did my best, and the girl I sparred against came in with so many bruises the next day that she said the win almost wasn’t worth it. I gave her Hell.”
Coming off of two straight losses, the next competition was team patterns. She and her teammates received second place, beginning a change in the competition for her.
Team sparring was next, but Delmonico wasn’t on the roster for that event. But just before the competition started, one of her coaches told her to get her gear on for the team sparring event. Her coaches had been so impressed by her performance during individual sparring that they changed their minds and asked her to compete in the team event.
“I fought against a woman from the U.K. who was a bruiser,” Delmonico said. “She was a boxing champion, a fifth-degree black belt, and she’d competed in three world championships before.”
Delmonico and her teammates won third place in sparring.
Next, she competed in individual power breaking, an event where competitors use straightforward techniques to break as many stacked boards as possible, followed by specialty breaking, an event where competitors use jumping techniques to attain greater height or to clear obstacles while breaking fewer boards. One of the specialty breaking events requires competitors to kick a board suspended 7 feet, 2 inches above the ground.
Delmonico took third place in power breaking and first place in specialty breaking, beating a field of twelve other competitors.
The final events of the competition for Delmonico were team breaking. Her team took second place in specialty breaking. She was always a part of the specialty breaking team, but she was added to the power breaking event late, because her coaches were impressed by her performance during the individual competition. It was the second time she’d been added to an event at the last minute, and the decision paid off, because her team won first place for power breaking.
Altogether, Delmonico brought home six medals.
“I like winning, but for me, the best part was just experiencing my first world championship,” Delmonico said. “It was an honor just to compete.”