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Fighting diabetes with taekwondo

How an ophthalmic assistant improved her health and her connection to fellow diabetic patients.

I started taekwondo at age 50, about three-and-a-half years ago. I had recently completed treatment for thyroid cancer, and shortly after that I was diagnosed with diabetes, so part of the motivation for taekwondo, a Korean form of martial arts, was to find an activity to help me improve my blood sugar and lose some weight.

My daughter, Elizabeth, was the first in our family to start Taekwondo at the Coventry Taekwondo studio in Fort Wayne, IN. She brought me a certificate for a free five-class confidence course. I signed up, thinking I’d give it a shot and prove to everyone that this wasn’t something I could do.

Surprisingly, by the end of the first class, I was hooked. Much to the shock of my personal physician, I stuck with the class; slowly, I started to see lower blood sugar readings and lower numbers on my scale. My endurance grew, and my overall physical well-being soared. Despite my recent health conditions, I felt better than I had in years.

The many benefits

I love everything about learning taekwondo through the American Taekwondo Association, which has a real family mentality and members that support and encourage each other. In addition, the martial art has brought some great health benefits to my life; I’ve lost 40 pounds and brought my A1C from 12 to under 6. I’ve competed in local tournaments and have received quite a few medals, including one from a national competition. I enjoy many forms of taekwondo competition, including sparring, weapons, and traditional forms, but if I had to choose a favorite aspect it would be board breaking. The feeling of being able to break boards with my hands, elbows, and feet is very empowering.

Ann Dunlap, COA (left) with her husband, Jeff (a first-degree black belt), and daughter, Elizabeth (a third-degree black belt and taekwondo instructor)

I earned my black belt in June 2017, after a long day of forms, sparring, endurance tests, and board breaking, as well as some weapons and self-defense techniques. I am preparing for my second-degree black belt test and hope to achieve it in June.

Never too late to be healthy

I’ve worked in ophthalmology since 1992, and for the last 12 years have been employed at Ophthalmology Consultants, in Fort Wayne, where I’m currently a COA. My coworkers are very supportive and encouraging of my taekwondo practice. When someone discovers that I am a martial artist, they usually ask if I can show them a move. After a knife defense class, one of the ophthalmologists who I work for actually wanted me to demonstrate on him. When 5’4” me quickly took 6’3” him down to the floor, he agreed that my technique would be effective!

More importantly, my experiences have given me a much stronger connection with our diabetic patients as I know how difficult the disease can be to manage. I’ve also been able to use my own experience — starting taekwondo at age 50 — as an example for my patients, encouraging them that it is never too late to adopt a more active, healthy lifestyle. OP