07:07 AM

Diana Lopez is Fighting for Olympic Gold

Courtesy of The New York Times

A bronze medalist in 2008, UHD student Diana Lopez will compete in tae kwon do at the London Games.

While in Manhattan recently to unveil Ralph Lauren's Olympic and Paralympic closing ceremony uniforms and casual wear, Diana, 28, reflected on her family and her sport with the New York Times.

Q. How did it feel to compete in the 2008 Olympics with your two brothers?

A. Oh, my God, it was really cool — a dream come true for all of us. All the stars were aligned for us to be together, and we did not disappoint. We all came back with hardware.

Q. How hard have you been working to turn that bronze medal to gold?

A. I've been training super hard at the Lopez Taekwondo Academy in Houston, which belongs to my brother Jean. For me, I think confidence is the biggest thing; it's all mental. I train with the best of the best, including my brother Steven, a five-time world champion who won Olympic gold medals in 2000 and 2004. I'll be the most experienced player in London, the only returning medalist in my weight class.

Q. What is your main strength as a competitor?

A. I'm a long, lean, mean fighting machine. Seriously though, I'm pretty tall, at 5-10, and fighting in the 125-pound weight category. I have long legs, which I use to prevent smaller girls from getting too close and scoring points. I use my front leg in much the same way that a boxer uses his jab to keep an opponent at a distance.

Q. Are people who don't know you surprised to learn you compete in tae kwon do?

A. Yes, very surprised. When I tell people I'm going to the Olympics, they're like: "What do you do, track and field? Pole vault? Are you a volleyball player?" No one ever guesses tae kwon do.

Q. What drew you and your brothers to the sport?

A. My parents came from Nicaragua to live the American dream. They moved first to New York and then to Houston. My dad grew up loving Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris and watching all of those martial arts movies. When we moved to Houston, he enrolled my brothers Jean and Steven into a small karate school to help build their confidence and get them to become more disciplined, and it all just kind of took off from there. Eventually, Mark and I got involved, and by the time I was 5 years old, we were all competing against each other in our garage.

Q. Is it true that your mother gets really nervous during all of your matches?

A. Oh, yes. Do not sit next to my mother when she is watching one of her children compete because you will have fingernails down your back. She is a nervous wreck.

Q. Steven is your only brother to have won Olympic gold. Has that made you even more determined?

A. Oh, definitely. We're a very competitive family and I want to win gold like Steven did, so I try and emulate everything he does in the hope of achieving what he has achieved. My brother Mark did not qualify for these Olympic Games, but it would be a dream scenario for Jean to coach me and Steven to gold medals with Mark and my parents watching and cheering for us.

Q. What are your hobbies and interests?

A. This is my job, so most everything I do revolves around tae kwon do. That said, I like to be a typical girl and go shopping. I have three nieces and nephews that I like to hang out with. I'm also finishing my last semester at the University of Houston-Downtown, where I'm majoring in childhood education.

Q. Tell us something no one knows about you.

A. I'm not married, but I do have a boyfriend, and not a lot of people know that. I'm dating a guy named Joe Rogowski, who is the strength and conditioning coach for the Orlando Magic.