This story comes from NPR’s Next Generation Radio project.
When taekwondo Olympic qualifier Victoria Stambaugh looks at her knees, she counts 17 scars. They’re a humble reminder of the six knee surgeries she’s overcome throughout her athletic career. But Stambaugh never expected a global pandemic would be the thing to keep her from competing and representing Puerto Rico on one of the biggest stages in sports.
After her sixth surgery in 2019, Stambaugh only had six months to prepare for her chance to make the Tokyo Olympic Games. Even though that procedure left the 27-year-old Houston native with about 20 percent of her meniscus in her left knee, Stambaugh earned her ticket to Tokyo at the Pan Am Olympic Qualification Tournament in Costa Rica on March 12.
Days after, COVID-19 forced nationwide lockdowns.
“My career is over,” Stambaugh said. “I have a certain amount of time in my life, a gap, a window gap to qualify for the Olympics. And Tokyo is going to be my last try for me personally.”
This wasn’t the first time Stambaugh thought that she was going to have to put away her uniform forever. At the qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, she lost to Peru’s Julissa Diez Canseco by one point.
“I was about done, like, mentally, physically and emotionally. I was drained.” said Stambaugh, who is Christian. “I just surrendered it all to God.”
Through prayer and support from the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee, Stambaugh decided to try one last time.
But because of her last surgery and the postponed games, she and her coach, Young In Bang, who’s taken seven athletes to the Olympics, had to change their game plan.