When talking to Sedona resident Lynda Christopher, it soon becomes obvious that she has a passion for what she does and her sights firmly set on her goals.
Christopher, an assistant instructor at World Brothers TaeKwonDo in Phoenix, practices martial arts, mainly Olympic Taekwondo, and Olympic shooting in pursuit of her dream.
Decorated with a multitude of records, championships and honors across multiple sports, she has achieved a lot over the last three-and-a-half decades.
“My highest achievement I haven’t accomplished yet,” Christopher said. “My dream, which has been since I was a teenager, is I still want to make the Olympics.”
Under the guidance of ninth-degree black belt Grand Master Jong Kil Kang, her most recent milestone came when she earned her fourth-degree black belt and Masters credentials in Taekwondo from the World Taekwondo Federation Kukkiwon. The process to achieve this credential requires years of testing in front of the public and a panel of five evaluators who travel from South Korea.
According to Christopher, belts and certifications from Kukkiwon are the highest credentials possible because it emphasizes having perfect technique, and one cannot simply “pay for their belts.” Kukkiwon is also the only federation whose credentials are recognized by the Olympic Committee.
Christopher did not always concentrate on martial arts. In fact she started out as a distance runner, then turned to weightlifting before beginning to practice martial arts seriously.
She appreciates martial arts for more than just the achievements she has earned or the places to which she has traveled; she sees the impact it makes on peoples’ lives.
“It just puts a smile on my face,” she said. “To see the difference that Taekwondo can make under the right circumstances. When an individual decides they want to become a better person and do the right thing you see the changes, and then it affects the whole community.”
By way of the values she’s learned through martial arts, Christopher regularly participates in community service, most recently attending the Shop with a Cop event and anonymously adopting a needy family.
Originally from the East Coast, her athletic career began as a long distance runner, recruited to be on the South Bay Striders track-and-field team in Southern California at the age of 13.
During the next 15 years she ran 5- and 10-kilometer races, then marathons and ultra distances, competing against the likes of Mary Decker, all the while practicing martial arts on the side. In 1984, after narrowly missing out on the Olympic team as a marathon runner, she was selected to be a torch carrier leading up to the Atlanta games.
In 1985 she got into an auto accident that left her concussed, temporarily paralyzed on her left side and took two years to fully recover from. It coincided with the time when women began to break the three-hour mark in the marathon, thus effectively ending her running career.
During her rehabilitation, she was encouraged to begin powerlifting seriously by the late Bob Delmonteque, fitness pioneer and trainer.
As a powerlifter, Christopher won 42 world titles from five different federations in four different weight categories. But once Olympic lifting was accepted into the games, she switched.
Her Olympic lifting coach required her to do stretching exercises, something she did not like to do, and as a result began practicing martial arts again.
According to Christopher, once she realized that there was a lack of funding and that she would not make the Olympic team, she turned her focus towards martial arts.
As a blue belt, Christopher made a breakthrough that resonated with her. Struggling to complete an aerial maneuver, her coach encouraged her to persevere. Once she did accomplish the move, she realized that for her it was as simple as not giving up.
“Because of going through all the different belts, I gained confidence and I kept growing and growing,” she said. “There’s something about the Taekwondo system ... there’s something very spiritual about it, too, where you keep growing if you continue.”
A training trip to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. was when she was “set straight,” being informed that she needed to train for the standards set by the Kukkiwon federation if she wanted to be successful.
During her martial arts career, Christopher has won six USA Martial Arts world championship titles and six Arizona Martial Arts state titles. In 2010 she was inducted into the Masters Hall of Fame.
In September she was involved in an auto accident in Cottonwood that totaled her car, causing her both physical and financial problems. Today, she continues with her rehabilitation, practices and teaches Taekwondo, and trains in shooting and poomsae, a form of Taekwondo that is under consideration for inclusion in the Olympics.
Her setback does not deter her from reaching her goal, citing her experience in martial arts.
“I knew I needed to take the same determination that’s made me a world champion many times over,” Christopher said. “And have that determination in physical therapy that I will do anything I can to overcome this.”