There is a growing number of women competing in sports. We see them in media regularly, breaking barriers and fighting for victory. But even then, there is still more to do for women to be seen in the same light as their male counterparts. This is why Taekwondo athlete Pauline Lopez fights to change the stigma that women can’t succeed in male-dominated sports.
Pauline will be representing the Philippines in the upcoming Southeast Asian Games in the field of Taekwondo. She is the first Filipina to earn a gold medal in the 2016 Asian Taekwondo Championships. She also bagged a bronze medal in the 2018 Asian Games and won gold in the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore. But other than reaping several medals here and abroad, Pauline is an advocate of women empowerment. Her wins have proved so much, including the fact that she can be as good as men when it comes to sports.
“There will always be doubters and naysayers who will try to pull you down. Instead of being affected by their negativity, I channel all my efforts towards proving them wrong, becoming a stronger version of myself, and in the process inspiring others, especially young girls,” said Lopez.
Find out how Pauline balances sports with other things, trains for competitions, and inspires young women in this exclusive interview:
How did Taekwondo become your sport of choice? When I was younger, my dad was part of the national team. He got in a really bad accident and that kind of ended his career. And when we moved to the States, he was teaching Taekwondo there. And I was just on the sidelines just watching and I said, “Dad, let me try this sport.” But he’s like, “No, I don’t want you to get injured,” but I’m a stubborn person. Once you tell me I can’t, I want to do it. So I just got on the mat and after a couple of months, he kind of saw potential.
Your first training was in the US? Yes, I started in the US. I was fighting divisions higher than me. I don’t know. I’m so competitive, especially when a guy tells me like “you’re a girl,” I will go out there.
What obstacles did you face as a female athlete? Do you think men don’t give you enough credit? It’s always going to be like that in a fighting sport where men are more dominant. I want to change that stigma. When we fight in the ring it’s women versus women and men versus men, but in training, my partners are guys. So it’s not like we can’t do it. It’s just how women are seen, so I definitely want to change that stigma.
Have you been underestimated by anyone in particular? I didn’t see it as anything just yet because I was so young and I didn’t really understand why this guy would say, “you can’t do this.” But that’s the issue now. It just goes to show that we can do it—we just shouldn’t set limits regardless of gender.
If you could change one thing in the sports industry, what would it be and why? Honestly, we have really good support out here in the Philippines. But if I were to change one thing, I think it would be to support the grassroots even more. Because out here, yes, they get the support, but you are more acknowledged after you win. But what about those people who don’t have the opportunity to get there to compete? They don’t have access to it. There’s this girl who messaged me on Instagram, and she said, “Oh, I’m from the province. I can’t make it to the national championship,” and it breaks my heart because she doesn’t have the means but I know that she’s good.
Besides your dad, who else inspired you when you were growing up? Zoe Saldana is my favorite because she’s not only an actress, she’s also an athlete. She would always talk about values like perseverance, about how no one can say no to you, especially if you’re a Black woman. I heard that when I was nine or eight years old, so that kind of stuck to me. Also, athletes like Serena Williams. They’re champions because of the way they are. Not just as an athlete, but as a person with values.
How do you train and prepare for competitions? We don’t have an offseason, we train year-round. It’s like we don’t get a break. Of course, you have the holidays and stuff but even then we still train. Before the tournament, I train twice a day, like Monday to Saturdays to Sundays, but when we have a big tournament like Southeast Asian Games, we train three times a day.
How do you balance sports with other things in your life? I go to school in Ateneo but I’m on a break right now because competitions are crazy. How I’m balancing it now is that when it’s time to train, it’s time to put your mind in it. Be mindful, and when it’s time to relax, relax. That’s something I just learned this year. I need to know how to rest and relax because that is part of the training. If I don’t do that, I will be burned out so I think I just have to be mindful of what I’m doing and why I’m doing this.
But how do you make sure you don’t get burned out? I have honestly just started to do a little bit of yoga and meditation to remind myself that I need to calm down. I try not to overtrain. I’m known for that. I’m known to be the first one in the gym and the last one out. I need to know when to relax, recover, and do therapy because if I keep training and get burned out, I get an injury.
How does it feel that you’re going to compete in your home soil in the SEA Games? This will be my fifth Sea Games and my first Sea Games ever in Manila. This will also be the first tournament that my parents will come and watch, like physically be there. So it’s gonna be so exciting. I’m nervous, but it’s the kind of nervous that you want to have.
How do you try to inspire younger generations of female athletes? Social media nowadays is such a big thing, right? When you show your training, or when you show the defeat, it’s not all about glory. I do talk about that on social media. I do talk about the failures. Honestly, how I feel I’m inspiring the younger generation and younger girls out there is through showing that “okay, yes, you lose.” But how do you bounce back? How do you get up after that? Can you or will you? No one’s going to stop you.