Sophie Gimeno (R) poses for a photo with her bronze medal at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 30, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
U.S. Para taekwondo athlete, Sophie Gimeno, is making history as the first American athlete to earn a medal in the sport at the Parapan American Games.
Gimeno, who is the youngest member of the U.S. Para taekwondo team, earned a bronze medal in the women’s K44 under 49kg on Friday.
“[My match] was difficult, but I just had to tell myself don’t worry about the crowd. Just leave it all on the mat. That’s all that matters.”
Gimeno, who was born with cerebral palsy, has always found joy in martial arts.
“It’s my therapy,” said Gimeno. “I don’t do therapy at home so I consider this my therapy.”
In 2017, Gimeno decided to become involved in Para taekwondo after a close friend introduced her to coach, Danny Espinosa.
Two years later, the teenager is now competing on one of the largest international stages.
Despite losing her first match and missing out on the gold medal round, Gimeno found her way onto the podium to clench the bronze medal.
“I’m kind of sad that I lost,” said Gimeno. “It was mainly the crowd that got me. The crowd was very intense, but I have my family and friends supporting me here. I did a lot better than I expected.”
To prepare for her first Games, Gimeno said her physical training didn’t change, but that it took a lot of mental preparation.
“For me, it’s all about the mental preparation,” said Gimeno. “I trained with a different mentality knowing that it was going to be harder with the crowd and it’s on a much bigger platform.”
But this is just the beginning for Gimeno and the Para taekwondo team.
“Our goal [at the Parapan American Games] is to win as many medals as possible, but just being here as a team is great,” said Gimeno. “We are like family. We support one another.”
Inching closer to Tokyo, Gimeno said she is taking it round-by-round.
“It’s really exciting,” said Gimeno. “I’m ready and excited for what comes next – the qualifiers and hopefully Tokyo.”
This is the first time taekwondo has ever been contested at Parapans. The sport will also make its Paralympic Games debut next summer in Tokyo.
“It’s an honor representing my country,” said Gimeno. “It’s a really cool. I get to visit so many places and it’s a very humbling feeling.”
Team USA’s Brianna Salinaro also competed, but fell short of the podium after a loss to Colombia. Johnny Birch, Michael Kacer, Evan Medell, Felix Sabates and Corbin Stacey are set to compete tomorrow.