Veteran taekwondo champion Lisa Gjessing relishing first Paralympic chance 

As Para taekwondo makes it debut at the Paralympic Games, the Dane will be looking to add another title to her illustrious career

Picture by World Taekwondo

Lisa Gjessing has achieved everything there is to achieve in Para taekwondo, which includes winning four world championship titles, but when talking about her first Paralympic Games, she does so with the giddy excitement of a teenager.

“I am visualising it already, I want to go now,” the Danish under-58kg K44 world champion said. “I’m really excited for the Opening Ceremony. I’ve always been so passionate about the Paralympics, watching people come together from all over the world, competing with no thought of race and religion. It is a wonderful event, and to be a part of it has been a big dream of mine for many years.”

Gjessing was not sure her sport would ever make it on to the Paralympic Games programme.

“I was happy with just being able to compete at world championships, but when the Paralympics became a possibility, nothing was going to stop me from being a part of it. I didn’t even have a choice. I had to do it. It’s been a goal since my daughters were very small, and now they are 12 and 15, so it’s a long time.

“I have never been so determined for a competition as I am for this one. I work full time and I’m a mother, so in the past I’ve had to make a lot of compromises with work, and could only use a certain amount of time for training.

“But for the Paralympics I’ve had more support than ever, from my federation and work. My mind is set on doing everything I can to make this happen. I am so motivated and there are no excuses for not being 100 per cent ready.”

Gjessing was a member of Denmark’s taekwondo squad before she developed cancer. Her left hand was amputated in May 2012 and she had to relearn her sport.

“I was doing taekwondo when I was younger, then I stopped due to work and kids. Getting back into it, there was some adapting because you use your whole body in taekwondo. But because it’s mostly about kicking, I can do most of what other people doing the sport can do.”

Gjessing works for the Danish police director, and the COVID-19 pandemic has afforded her flexibility when it comes to training.

“They’ve let me train in the morning and work in the afternoon. It is busy, but it’s great. And my family has got involved, coming to training camps too, which is nice. I have been teaching my girls to kick.”

Competing at Tokyo 2020 will close a circle that began nine years ago. While recuperating, Gjessing was inspired by the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

“After surgery, I was feeling insecure about who I was. Then I saw the Games in London, and it really hit me. I was blown away by these people competing, smiling, crying, being part of something bigger than themselves. I made the choice that I also wanted to do this.”

And she has done it, in style.

“It’s been crazy. People told me I’d have a depression after my amputation. I didn’t have that. Instead, I had something else, something that fills me out with love and caring and opportunities. I would definitely like to have two hands, it would make some things easier, but my life is definitely not worse since what happened. I love my life and I’m thankful.”