In a career that has seen him on 19 U.S. national teams, 28-year-old Stephen Lambdin, of Colleyville, Texas, will be competing at his first Olympic Games this August in Rio. In this month's feature interview, we learn a bit more about the newly-minted Olympian...

Q: You've said you followed your older brother into Taekwondo. Were there any other sports you or he played while growing up?
Stephen: 
I played a little bit of football in middle school, but quit in high school when I made the 2002 Junior National Team. For cross training, I was on the cross country team and ran the 110-meter hurdles in track. Full disclosure, I was terrible at all three!

Q: When did you know that Taekwondo was the path you wanted to follow?
Stephen: 
I always knew it would be something I would continue to do because I love doing it, but it wasn't until 2004 that I realized I could actually end up doing something big in the sport.

Q: Do you recall the first time you harbored dreams of making the Olympic Team in Taekwondo?
Stephen: 
At the 2002 Junior World Championships in Greece, I lost my first round to Korea. When I say lost, I mean I got destroyed. This was before the point-gap rule was in effect, and the referee still stopped the match before the start of the third round. It was a bad enough showing that several coaches on the staff actually told me that I should "reconsider" if Taekwondo was for me or not!

Coach Sherman Nelson actually had a conversation with me that I still remember to this day. He told me that I had two options: 1) I could give up and spend the rest of my life regretting it, or 2) I could pick myself up and work even harder. I went with option 2, and spent the next two years training like crazy. Then in 2004, at my second Junior World Championships, I took a bronze medal after five tough fights. That night I started to realize that if I worked hard enough, anything was possible. No matter what people said, it was possible if I outworked everyone else. I still use that fight from Greece to motivate myself in training today.

Q: Given those early struggles in the sport, where did you find the strength to persevere in the sport?
Stephen: 
I found the strength to keep going in both my faith in my Savior Jesus Christ, and my parents. I believe that God has a plan for all of our lives, and that he would use my story as testimony to His glory. I just needed to walk the path that He gave me.

My parents both came from humble beginnings, and from a young age taught us that if you want something, you have to work for it. If you want an Olympic gold medal, or a million dollars, you have to be willing to put in the work. I took that to heart from a young age and I have no clue where I would be now without that mindset.

Q: At 28 years of age, did you feel that this year was your best, and possibly last, shot at making an Olympic Team?
Stephen: Definitely my best year! Up until this point, I had made every kind of national team that was possible. With junior, collegiate, U24, Pan Am Games and senior teams on my record, I had done almost everything I wanted from that perspective. Even if I hadn't had as good of a year as I have had, I couldn't complain about the amount of success I've been blessed with. This year has just been icing on the cake. To make an Olympic team was not only a huge blessing, but a dream come true. Going to the Olympics has been the result of thousands of hours of hard work, the help and time of countless people, a ton of money, and a little bit of luck. It's still surreal, honestly.

Q: You took an extreme approach to improving your mental strength when you attended a training camp by Dutch daredevil Wim Hof. What led you to take on such a drastic challenge?
Stephen: 
Getting ready for Olympic Trials I came to a few interesting conclusions. First, I knew my opponent (Olympic medalist and world champion Mark Lopez) was drastically more experienced than me. He won world championships while I was still on the junior team! Second, I knew after 22 years of practice I could only get "so much" better physicallly in the three months prior. Understanding this, I began looking for areas to target that would give me the highest return on investment. While there was no chance of overcoming the experience gap between Mark and I, I could go into the fight tougher mentally than my opponent.

In diving into research on meditation, mental toughness, and optimizing the human body for performance, I found some information on Wim Hof. He was doing these amazing things just by the power of his breath, and claimed he could teach anyone to do it. Although skeptical, I booked my flight to Poland that day. It ended up being one of the best decisions I've made for myself and my training.


Stephen with Wim Hof during training camp in Poland

Q: What was the toughest part of that training camp, or what is your most vivid memory?
Stephen: 
On the last day of the camp, we had to climb a mountain. The catch was that it was freezing cold, sleeting, and there were 60 mph gusts of wind...and we had to do it in nothing but shorts. This was probably the closest I've ever come to flat-out quitting something. My hands were freezing, there was no visibility due to fog, and I almost fell off the mountain twice! After the second fall, I made the decision that I would push through to the furthest point I could see, and then turn around and go back down the mountain. I forced myself up and ran to the spot I had identified, and to my shock I was on the summit! I was that close but couldn't see it because of the fog. I almost gave up on a great achievement because I got distracted by the environment and stopped pushing forward. It was a huge blessing and I definitely think it was God's way of teaching me a lesson about perseverance. It was the toughest mental test I had ever encountered, and I don't think I would have won trials if I hadn't gone to Poland.

Q: Now that you're an Olympian, how has your everyday life and training changed?
Stephen: 
My everyday life is still pretty much the same. The people I keep in my inner circle do a great job of keeping me grounded. As far as my training is concerned, it has become even more focused. One hundred percent of my attention is on the competition day on August 20th. Outside of training, it has just been business as usual.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at the Rio Games?
Stephen: 
I visualize every day standing on the medal stand, hearing the National Anthem played, and getting a gold medal. It is the one and only experience I want to come out of August with.

Q: Your mother is going through a very tough battle of her own right now. How has she inspired you in your journey?
Stephen: 
My mother is currently battling and advanced stage, rare form of cancer called carcinoid syndrome. Basically, she regularly suffers from blood loss, rapid tumor growth, and tons of pain. She has good days and bad, but we're seeing positive results from her chemotherapy.

My mom's condition has put a lot of things in perspective for me. It's shown me that the only important thing in life is being with the ones you love while you can. She lives the concepts she taught me as a kid: no matter how tough the odds, just keep pushing and keep working and God can do amazing things for you. Nothing would make me happier than to give her a gold medal at the end of August.

Now it's on to the speed round...

Six words to describe you?
SL: 
I'm the funniest person you'll meet (that's exactly six)

Proudest moment in your taekwondo career?
SL: 
Having a coach tell me as a junior "It will be a cold day in hell before you make the Olympic Team, unless you cut weight". Last month, it snowed in Aguascalientes, Mexico, for the first time in 27 years, and I made the Olympic Team the next day. Poetic justice at its finest.


Stephen after qualifying for the Rio Games with Coach Jason Poos, Sherri LaShomb and Tim Thackrey

Foods you can't live without?
SL: 
Brussels sprouts and Bulgogi.

One food you detest?
SL: 
Mangos. They're just too arrogant.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten?
SL: 
Fried scorpion on a stick in China.

Hardest lesson you've learned?
SL: 
"A wise man holds his tongue. Only a fool blurts out everything he know; that only leads to sorrow and trouble." Proverbs 10:14

Favorite American city?
SL: 
Either New York City or Malibu.

One item you can't travel without?
SL: 
My Bible

Any superstitions or good luck charms?
SL: 
I don't believe in luck, but I pray before every match that God will help keep me safe, compete at my best, and show His glory in my actions.

What is one of your guilty pleasures?
SL: 
Being able to ruin and entire episode of "Friends" for someone by quoting it verbatim, just before it happens.

What is your dream vacation?
SL: 
Two weeks of dog sledding in Alaska and Canada.

Favorite social media site?
SL: 
Instagram (@stephenlambdin)

Favorite app?
SL: 
Netflix

One website you visit every day?
SL: 
If you check my computer, you'll see I chronically visit ESPN, JuiceCompound.com and IMDB.

Favorite TV show?
SL: 
Right now? "House of Cards" or "Archer." All time? "Mad Men" or "Friends."

Favorite holiday?
SL: 
Groundhog Day. I'm a big fan of that weatherman Phil Connors.

Favorite movie?
SL: 
That's a loaded question. Do I choose classic or modern? Comedy or drama? Let's just say it's somewhere in between "Young Frankenstein," "Fight Club," "The Dark Knight" and "Airplane!"

Favorite pro sports team?
SL: 
Mid-90's Chicago Bulls.

All-time favorite video game or board game?
SL: 
Goldeneye for Nintendo 64.

Best birthday or Christmas present you ever received?
SL: 
I qualified for the Olympics the day after my 28th birthday. It'll be hard to top that one.

Most memorable Halloween costume?
SL: 
David Bowie from "Labyrinth."

Do you have a secret talent?
SL: 
I'm a really good singer. I've been called the "Song Bird" of my generation. But I'm extremely private about it.

Your most famous relative?
SL: 
I had a great-uncle named EA Black who was a silver medalist back in the 1936 Games. Also, my brother, Jon, is in the band Hella Zealous.

If you could be on any game show, which would it be?
SL: 
"@Midnight" on Comedy Central.

Coffee or tea?
SL: 
Large cappuccino, with one raw sugar, please.

City or country?
SL: 
City.

Dogs or cats?
SL: 
Dogs.

Zoo or art gallery?
SL: 
Zoo.

Favorite season?
SL: 
Toyotathon.

Morning person or night owl?
SL: 
Depends on the time of day.