Pauline Lopez’s special bond with dad Efren comes from shared passion and love for Taekwondo
Santino Honasan on Jun 21, 2020 01:06 PM
“You can’t create a champion overnight. With all the support of the family, coaches, and teammates, and everyone...I’m just so so proud. Whatever I wasn’t able to achieve, she just continued and fulfilled it, but not just for me, but for her family and for herself." Efren Lopez Jr. on daughter Pauline Lopez
Pauline Lopez is a champion.
A two-time SEA Games gold medalist, Asian Youth Games gold medalist, and Asian Taekwondo Championships gold medalist among many other accolades, the 23-year old Filipina is easily one of the country’s most recognizable athletes, and is still on the rise.
With SEA Games and Asian Games medals under he belt, Pauline’s focus now shifts on the world stage as she tries to secure an Olympic berth for next year’s Tokyo games.
Behind all of Pauline’s success however, is a great driving force that served as her first-ever taekwondo coach and to this day remains her biggest supporter: her dad Efren Lopez Jr.
Pauline and daddy Efren share a special bond that is built around their passion and love for the martial art of taekwondo.
National Team Roots
While Pauline has undoubtedly made a name for herself in Philippine taekwondo, one thing that not a lot of people might know is that Pauline inherited her love for the sport from her dad, who was in his own right a former National Team member as well.
“1989, I was part of the aspirants, the B-team, we trained in Korea, and then that same year, officially, I was part of the National Team na, but the A-team kasi was Stephen Fernandez, and we’re in the same weight category, so pretty much for the most part, siya yung lumalabas lagi kasi siya yung nananalo, pero there were instances of course na I won over him, so ako yung pinapadala,” Efren shared with ABS-CBN Sports.
Efren was a back-to-back National Champion and a SEA Games veteran, but his National Team career was cut short because by 1994, he had already become a father but also because of what eventually becme a career-ending injury.
“That was like 1989 until 1994, so it’s just like four years of being a National Team member. 1994, why, because I had a baby na, my first baby, the elder sister of Pauline. And that was the same year that I had an accident din, so that put a stop to my career.”
Prior to what would have been his final stand in the Asian Games, Efren suffered an injury in training, which ultimately prevented him from competing and eventually retiring from the sport as a competitor.
“It was very bad, I was actually bound for Hiroshima for the Asian Games,” Efren recalled. “Apat lang kami na delegates noon, and then during training, I got hit by a really hard kick sa face, and my upper palate, yung bone, shattered. I had to go through ENT surgery.”
That fateful injury could very well have been the catalyst for Pauline not getting into taekwondo at all.
Life, and Pauline however, had other plans.
Because of her dad’s taekwondo-related injury, Pauline could have easily taken a different route or decided to pursue something else.
Being around the sport so much however, couple with a bit of persistence, led Pauline to eventually beginning her journey.
“Actually, like my dad mentioned, because of that injury, when he was teaching back in the States, I was going with him after school and I was watching him teach, and I was the one pushing him actually to let me join,” Pauline shared. “I was so persistent pero he said no muna because of the accident, he didn’t want that to happen to me and my siblings, but I said ‘No, I want to do this, I want to pursue this.’, so that’s how it started.”
“On top of that, knowing that he had that background, it motivated me and inspired me even more to pursue my dream. I want to say I was about nine, ten years old when I said that I want to pursue the Olympics. I just didn’t know yet how I was gonna get there, but I promised myself that I would try and do whatever I can from that day on to pursue not just my dream but our family dream, me and my dad’s dream,” she continued.
Potential is one of the most important building blocks for champions, and once Pauline showed her potential, her dad and he early coaches knew that she was capable of being an extraordinary competitor.
“When he saw potential in me, because I was so persistent, I asked ‘How do I do this? What techniques do I do?’, he saw the potential and that’s how it started,” Pauline said.
“Like I said earlier, initially hindi [ko siya gusto mag-taekwondo], then when we saw the potential, we knew, of course myself and the other coaches, biglang nag-twist yun,” daddy Efren added. “Biglang andun na yung push, and everything that we know that could be of Pauline’s benefit, we wanted to fast-track it at a young age, and that’s why she was considered one of the youngest delegates in the Guangzhou Asian Games, at age 13.”
“From then on, yun na. Year after year after year, she would be really competing internationally, and in the back door, kami naman yung ‘Okay, we really have to work on this as much as we can. Like, 24/7, year-round training. Yun naman yung naging parang opposite on the other side na initially, ayaw ko talaga, of course as a dad and considering what happened to me before,” he added.
“Pauline was different”
Pauline’s older sister and younger brother also got into the sport, and all three Lopez siblings eventually earned their black belts.
Eventually however, it was only Pauline who decided to dedicate herself and fully pursue taekwondo.
“It’s really different. I have three kids, yung older sister ni Pauline and then a younger brother,” Efren explained. “I never really expected na it would end up on a different level, on a higher level of being a practitioner, a competitor. They all earned their black belts, but then Pauline was kind of different. I saw in her the persistence and the grit of wanting to make it, whatever she had in mind, and then parang tuloy-tuloy na lang yun.”
For her part, Pauline believes that it’s the shared passion and love for taekwondo that has helped her form a special bond with her dad.
“My sister, she didn’t want to pursue it after she got her black belt, but me and my younger brother, we were still training and still really being guided by my dad. Eventually my brother knew that it wasn’t his passion, but I think that’s why me and my dad have this bond,” she said.
“We’re really passionate about this sport. It’s not just being an athlete, it’s not just having an athlete life. What we hold as martial artists, I think that’s what kind of sets us apart, and I’m really thankful to have such guidance,” Pauline added.
Pauline and daddy Efren are apart most of the time with Pauline studying in Manila and the rest of the family back in Los Angeles, but the distance has never been a hindrance for the two to communicate, and for Efren to share his guidance.
“We’re really apart, so whatever he’s taught, it’s a conscious and great effort to remember what he says. What we’ve learned together from taekwondo is the values and tenets that this sport has taught us, which is self-confidence, modesty, indomitable spirit, perseverance, and etiquette, and along with this, what my dad has added is being resilient to the struggles that come with reaching your dream, and of course that grit. Not everyone you can teach to fight through whatever challenges you have. You have to have that grit to pursue your dreams and keep going, so that’s what I’ve learned from my dad,” Pauline said.
She adds that when it comes to advice or guidance, her dad isn’t one to mince words or beat around the bush.
“One thing that I’m really thankful that my dad’s habits is he always keeps me in check, even though it might not sound nice, he does not sugarcoat anything, he’s very straightforward and direct, because that’s how it is. That’s how you’re gonna get better, and that’s what he does.”
“Sometimes I would post videos on Facebook or Instagram that I’m training and then I get a message from my dad where he’s saying ‘Hey, your technique is a little off.’ or ‘You’ve got to be faster. Where’s your basics?’ He still has that, and sometimes, when he’s not even around, I have that in my head. ‘How can I better myself? How can I do things better?’ Not just in taekwondo, but in life. There’s this thing in my head where I think ‘Is this the right choice? What would my dad say? What would my mom say?’ and that’s what I keep with me until now,” Pauline continued.
Being direct and straightforward when it comes to Pauline is something that daddy Efren acknowledges.
“That’s why we’ve had a lot of fights on FaceTime too, right Pauline?” he said with a chuckle. “I guess it helps the relationship to be healthy, because I used to be really in her face, like every smallest detail, I made sure that she corrects it. When she’s planning on something, I want to make sure that she works hard for it to achieve it. I was really like that when she was growing up, until it came to a point when we sat down and we had this realization that ‘Hey, I know you’re one of my coaches and you’re my dad too…’”
Taking a Step Back
Pauline will be the first to tell you that she remains grateful and appreciative of the guidance that she’s gotten from her dad, whether it be regarding taekwondo or life, but shared that at one point, she felt as though he needed to take a step back from being a coach and become more of a father again.
“I think when I turned 20, we had one of the biggest fights ever, where I was just telling him ‘Dad, I would really appreciate it even more if you took a step back from being a coach and just support me as a father.’” Pauline shared. “It was one of those moments where it made us cry because, although we had an argument, it was a blessing in disguise because it did strengthen our relationship.”
“Now he’s supporting me more as a father and he’s taken a little step back on the coaching side because now he trusted me with all the training that I’ve had with him and all the other coaches. He trusted me to pursue my dream with taekwondo, but now he’s supporting me as a father, and that was so heartfelt, and I’ll never forget it, and that’s something that we’re gonna take with us forever,” she continued.
Having full confidence in his daughter and knowing that he has taught her everything that she needs, daddy Efren did just that and take a step back.
“What made me actually say yes to that kind of arrangement, shall I say, is the fact that I think I’ve given her enough tools, the fundamentals that she could take as she journeys in life and of course, together with taekwondo,” he said.
“These are just basic. I’m so so straightforward when it comes to giving her input and advice on what to do and what not to do, it’s just so straightforward. I’ve been so big with this thing that, ‘Pauline, okay you work hard for it, you get it.’ It’s as basic as that, you work hard for it, you get it, and not just in taekwondo, even with her academics, even if she’s dealing with problems and what have you. When I give her advice, it’s so so basic and straightforward, and just like what she mentioned earlier, no sugarcoating. That’s what it’s like, her growing up being so persistent, I was by her side until it came to a point where I had to step back a little bit and be a dad, not a coach,” Efren continued.
Efren may be Pauline’s toughest coach and harshest critic, but he’s also the proudest of all her accomplishments.
“I can’t really put it into words how proud I am,” he said. “I feel ecstatic every time, I’m so so proud of her.”
Pauline’s success, Efren says, also pushes and inspires him to work even harder and continue to provide for the family.
“Just like any other dad, they will always be inspired in turn. They’re going to be inspired to work harder, they’re going to get excited every morning, getting up to go to work and to be of service, and of course to always be around for everything that the family needs.”
“You can’t create a champion overnight. With all the support of the family, coaches, and teammates, and everyone, this is a combination that I just can’t explain, especially when there’s success that comes with it, I’m just so so proud. Whatever I wasn’t able to achieve, she just continued and fulfilled it, but not just for me, but for her family and for herself,” he added.
Pauline admits that her conversations with her father rarely turn emotional, so being able to hear that he’s proud of what she has been able to achieve over the years is something special.
“When we talk, it’s more of direct, we don’t have a chance to talk about our feelings, and it’s very heartwarming that my dad feels that way about me and about my siblings. Like I’ve always said, I’m very thankful for him and for what I’ve been through and what my siblings have been through, to have such a supporting dad who’s always there regardless of all the arguments and all the hard teachings, I’m still very grateful and blessed,” she said.
Looking to the Future
At just 23, Pauline is still very young and has a lot more ahead of her. As much as Pauline has been able to do at such a young age, daddy Efren hopes to see her do even more, not just on the taekwondo mats but in the real world as well.
“Yung achievements kasi is relative eh. You may have all the accolades and achievements in the world, but then what is actually more important is for her to manifest the tools and the fundamentals and the tenets of taekwondo to life, as she journeys in life.”
“Yun lang yung wish ko for my daughter, is for her to apply all these. I armed her with everything so I just hope and pray that she will be able to apply it as she journeys in life, not just in taekwondo. I know she’s not done with her academics yet, and before you know it, she’ll be an adult and have a family of her own. I would want her to just apply everything that we’ve learned from when we started training hard in the sport and all the way through as she goes on with life.” he added.
Efren hopes that one day, he and Pauline can work together and help spread their love and their passion for taekwondo to other aspiring young athletes all over the country.
“I know Pauline hasn’t done, in as far as her dreams, she hasn’t fulfilled everything yet, but I hope that day would come that we would be able to pass that torch or that flame of knowledge in taekwondo to the next generation, or to the young, and so maybe we can be together hopefully and put up our own school, or put up clinics, just like what Milo is doing, building champions out there, and so maybe we can be of service to the young or maybe we can be a tool to pass on the fire.”
“I hope we’ve inspired the young athletes, the young girls and boys out there,” Pauline added. “I know we have to adjust to the new normal, but I think it’s a great chance for the parents, dads and moms out there to give their guidance and keep their children’s champion spirits up.”
Today being Father’s Day, Pauline shared what her favorite thing about daddy Efren is.
“One of my favorite things about my dad is how hardworking he is. I know we always keep saying that, but really, it is. We migrated to the States, and even as a young girl, I saw how hard he works to provide for the people that he loves,” she expressed.
“I know we keep talking about it, but really, that’s one of the things, and he shows a good example of that. Everyone says what example you see, you will follow, and I hope that I’m doing that. I know my sister and my brother, they’re definitely doing that, and I hope we’ve made you proud, Dad,” she added.
In turn, Efren shared what his favorite thing about being a father is.
“Like what I mentioned earlier, paramount is being inspired, day in and day out. I really get inspired by my kids and by my family as a whole. For as long as they do what they should, they work hard for their goal and dreams, that’s actually enough for me. I couldn’t ask for more. As long as I see them doing great with all the things that they do, even in the smallest detail, that makes me really happy, and of course, for as long as they’re in good health, that’s the most that I can pray for,” he shared. “I would like to take this opportunity to greet all the dads out there a happy father’s day. I believe that fathers just want the best for their kids and their family. I believe in that.”