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Fall 2017 Featured Fighter: Drea Lopez Diaz

Posted on November 20, 2017

Drea Lopez Diaz, far left, helping out at the 2017 Washington State Governor’s Cup

Featured Fighter: Drea Lopez Diaz,  3rd Dan Black Belt and Yi Sport Volunteer

“When I was little growing up in Sacramento, I would always watch Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee movies with my dad and little sisters, and I was like, ‘I wanna do that!’ So he took us to a local karate school.”

Thankfully, none of us will ever have to know how the world would look had that karate school been open. Faced with three teary-eyed kids who expected to start martial arts TODAY, Drea’s dad took them down the street to Robinson’s Taekwondo. Drea was seven. Six years later, she had three national championships tucked under a 3rd degree black belt and, more importantly, new-found confidence.

“I grew up insecure; I was bullied in elementary school. I liked winning and I was really, really competitive at that age. Even practice sometimes felt like a tournament; I would get butterflies thinking about how I might have to fight my nemesis today—and I liked that feeling. It gave me something to strive for. Winning Nationals was validation that I could do something pretty big, and be part of something that was bigger than me.”

That “something bigger” also turned out to include Yi Sport—and a certain handsome young fighter named Khalil Lee-Butler.

“I was going to qualifiers for Nationals, and I saw this squad on the train wearing these oversized purple jackets, which looked so cool. They all looked really intense and super-focused. I thought, man, these kids are serious! Then for Junior World Team trials we stayed in the same hotel. They were so respectful—it really struck me. They introduced themselves to us and our coach, Master Robinson, and we were all so impressed. They just had this…presence. And of course, Khalil caught my eye right away,” she laughs.

Eventually, Drea moved to Seattle and started training at Yi Sport with Coach Lee and Coach Sara, whom she credits for much of Yi Sport’s tournament success. “Coach Sara is a technical genius. I often hear Khalil say he wouldn’t be the fighter or the coach he is today without her.”

Drea hopes to follow in Coach Sara’s footsteps to help make the Yi Sport squad more well-rounded. “It’s always good to have a woman’s perspective in this sport. Emotionally, girls go through such different experiences and have different social conditioning [than boys], which also makes things different for us in our development as athletes.”

Busy with her work as a Community Connector for Health Equity Foundation, which takes her all over the state, you’ll mostly see Drea substitute coaching and volunteering at tournaments, making sure our kids have the crucial logistical and emotional support they need to get through the stress of competition. “I know how much being part of a community like this really does change your life. My best friends at that age were my teammates. You form a different kind of connection, through blood, sweat, and tears. It can be really tough at times. That toughness has stayed with me. I wouldn’t have the job that I have, the toughness I have, without Taekwondo.”

Drea does have plans to fight again. Having suffered a torn ACL, the path back to where she was as an athlete is daunting.  “But I’ve had friends who have been seriously injured and then went on to go to Nationals and the Olympics. Don’t let injuries stop you. Don’t let anything stop you.”