Para taekwondo athlete gives back to sport
by Jordan Stoopler
Anthony Cappello remembers the moment as if it occurred just yesterday. The then-10-year-old had tagged along with his mother and two older brothers on a visit to the Raymond Mourad Taekwondo Academy in NDG in search of an after-school activity for his siblings. He recalls taking a seat on the sidelines and watching the class in astonishment.
“I was just enamored by it right away,” said Cappello, now 31. “I was totally inspired and fascinated by martial arts. I joined the club – and the rest is history.”
Despite being born with shorter arms, a left arm without an elbow and two fingers on each of his hands, Cappello remained undeterred. He enrolled in taekwondo courses at the gym, ultimately earning his green belt before trying his hand at soccer. However, he was cut from a local little league team at the age of 18, prompting a natural shift back to his first love of taekwondo.
“All the skills transferred seamlessly,” he said. “I was kind of hurt by organized team sports because I felt like I could do way more in soccer. Unfortunately, there is competition between hundreds of players whereas, in taekwondo, it is the individual that has the ability to push themselves to new heights. If you stick to it and dedicate yourself, you can make it anywhere. That really stuck with me.”
Cappello’s dedication to the sport led him to the World Para Taekwondo Championships, where he earned a bronze medal in 2017, as well as a silver medal and MVP award at the 2019 event in Antalya, Turkey.
Cappello was in prime position to represent Canada at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, the first time Para taekwondo would be included at the Games. However, a blow to the head suffered at the Para Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru months before prevented him from qualifying. He sought an exemption and wildcard into the Games, but to no avail.
He credits his weekly visits to a sports psychologist, coupled with the support of family and friends with helping him stay grounded during his Paralympic exclusion.
“They helped me a lot,” he said. “My focus turned to staying in shape and keeping to my daily schedule and regimen.”
Cappello’s focus these days has shifted more and more to coaching, out of that same Sherbrooke St. gym he grew up training in himself.
“Coaching has always been a major motivation for me,” he said. “I want to help grow the para-community in Canada. Right now, Canada does not have a ton of athletes for Para taekwondo specifically. I’ve been working with Taekwondo Canada to try to change that. I want to help develop more athletes and show them that this sport can do for them exactly what it did for me.”