- The Washington Times - Friday, July 2, 2004

He plastered them all, Sisyphus with Spackle. What else could a father do?

Time and again, Julio Lopez patched the divot-pocked walls of his family’s garage in Sugar Land, Texas. One maddening hole at a time. Yet time and again, the cracks reappeared, like Tupac releasing another posthumous track.

The children — and taekwondo — were to blame.

“In a day or two the holes would always be back,” recalls Steve Lopez, Julio’s son. “Because we’d kick each other into [the walls].”

Everyone trained on the garage’s oil-stained floor. Jean, the oldest son. Younger brothers Steve and Mark. Even little Diana. Plus a few of their neighborhood friends. There wasn’t much room to maneuver — Julio had to move the car, day after day — but somehow they managed. Managed to batter the place, too, with wheel kicks and heel strikes and constant sparring. And so they hit upon a novel solution, in part because dad just couldn’t keep up.

“We put posters up, to block the holes,” Steve Lopez says. “Little sayings like ‘Carpe Diem’ and ‘Be the Best,’ just to remind us we were in there for a purpose. To fulfill our dreams.”

More than a decade later, those dreams are reality. Mark and Diana are elite taekwondo fighters, regulars on the United States national team. Steve is the 25-year-old poster boy, a two-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist. Jean owns a school and coaches all three siblings.

When Steve takes to the mat at the Athens Olympics this August, he’ll be fighting for more than himself and country.

“[It’s] a family affair,” Lopez says. “[Taekwondo] keeps us all together. It helps to have a family that does the same thing you do. • • •

Papa provided the first push. Right out of bed. Julio Lopez didn’t know much about taekwondo, a Korean martial art that became a full-fledged Olympic sport at the Sydney Games. But he grasped the value of hard work.

Rising before dawn, Lopez roused his children. Some days they ran. Other days they did jumping jacks. Maybe push-ups. After an hour of exercise, dad ushered them onto a school bus.

“I hated it at the time,” Steve Lopez says. “‘Papa, I don’t want to wake up, please.’ But I thank my father now, because those are the little things that have made a huge difference in my life.”

Born in Nicaragua, Julio emigrated to America in 1973, pregnant wife Ondina in tow. A structural engineer, he landed in New York and took at job at a sporting goods factory, making Yankees hats and pinstriped uniforms.

His English was rudimentary, rendering his engineering training useless. So Lopez went back to school, still working to support his family. Ultimately, he was offered a better job in Sugar Land, a suburb of then-booming Houston.

The family moved west, where he and son Jean came across a martial arts studio. The neon sign read KARATE. Julio loved sports, devoured Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris flicks. He wanted his children to learn discipline. This would do.

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