In taekwondo’s arena, Pauline Lopez fought battles, transformed defeats, and now coaches athletes to victories
This is an excerpt from MEGA February 2024 MEGA Active story.
The lights dimmed in the arena, anticipation lingering in the air like a held breath. The crowd’s collective pulse quickened, awaiting the exchange of kicks and punches that would echo through the dojang.
The spotlight is on, the atmosphere is charged, and the stakes are high. Yet, surprisingly, the star of this story isn’t in the center of the ring, but on the sidelines, coaching her protégés.
Pauline Lopez, once a national athlete conquering championships, is now donning the hat of a coach, leading her students with the same tenacity that made her a force to be reckoned with in taekwondo. This unexpected shift from fighter to mentor marked a full-circle journey that has its roots in the streets of Los Angeles. “My dad, Efren Lopez Sr., was part of the national team back in the late ’80s,” Lopez tells MEGA. “When he moved to the States, he vowed never to teach his kids taekwondo, mainly because he got a bad injury, but also because he initially believed that it was a ‘man’s sport.’”
Against her father’s initial reluctance, she showed him that taekwondo is not a sport reserved only for men. “I’m a stubborn person—you can’t tell me I can’t do something, more so because I’m a girl,” the 27-year-old coach recounts, her eyes reflecting the fire that fueled her early years in the sport. “So, I pursued it, and eventually, he saw the potential.”
At 13, she returned to the Philippines, as a budding taekwondo talent, and by 2010, she represented the Philippines at the Asian Games in South Korea, the youngest among Filipino delegates.
The victories were sweet, but the essence of her journey lay beyond the medals. “It’s not just about the sport; it’s what comes after,” she reflects. “I really felt like I bloomed—I blossomed, I got out of my shell, and it bled through not just in sports but also in confidence in school, in life.”
The pinnacle of her career came with two gold medals at the 2019 South East Asian (SEA) Games, a triumph that overshadowed a series of losses leading up to it.
“I just kept losing,” she recounts. “I would train so hard and put in the work, but it just wasn’t for me. It wasn’t aligning with the universe, and I was getting so frustrated. It came to the point when I just wanted to stop it. I’m doing a sport that doesn’t love me back. Parang love life, mas masakit pa nga.”
In the end, all her hard work paid off. But for Lopez, the victory wasn’t merely about the gold, it was about resilience, showing up, and refusing to quit: “At that time, I didn’t even care if I won any medal. The win was that I fought even if the odds were against me. I gave my best on the mat, and thank God that best got that gold medal.”
Photography KIERAN PUNAY of KLIQ.INC. Art Direction BRIE VENTURA. Makeup KHRYSTINE SORIANO. Hair SHANTAL CABIAS. Styling JIA TORRATO. Sittings Editor BAM ABELLON. Production LAURD SALEN. Shot on location DAILY BURN FITNESS. Special Thanks to RONA TAI of DAILY BURN CAPITOL HILLS and QUAYN PEDROSO.