Flushing Taekwondo martial arts fighter Ismael Oumarou Gouzae isn’t letting his disability deter him from achieving his dream to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Fighting with one hand, 18-year-old Gouzae competed in the U.S. Open Championship held in Las Vegas on March 1, winning a bronze medal. Over 2,400 athletes from more than 80 countries participated in the international competition to pave the road for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020; it will be the first time the Paralympics will be included.
“Ismael won against a USA athlete he once lost to in Morocco, and [he] lost a close match against a No. 1 ranked Mexico Player,” said Andrew Park, head coach of the Team Eagles Training Center, located at 42-27 162nd St. in Flushing.
A native of Bosso, Niger, Gouzae lost his right hand (wrist down) at the age of 12 from a grenade explosion caused by the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram.
“He was a hero that day, as he tried to throw the grenade away from a crowd of people, it exploded in his hand,” said Park, on behalf of Gouzae who doesn’t speak much English. “He ran to wash it off with water since the acid was spreading, then someone from the street wrapped it around to stop the bleeding and he went to the hospital.”
With no family in the U.S., Gouzae resides at a shelter in Manhattan and attends Bronx Regional High School. Every day, he commutes two to three hours to the Flushing Team Eagles Training Center, where he has been training regularly three to four times a week. On weekends, he trains late until 11 p.m. or later, according to Park.
Currently, Gouzae is ranked top 10 in the world and will most likely participate in the Tokyo Olympics, according to Park. He previously participated in African Games and the World Championship in Morocco, where he earned valuable ranking points along with his medals to be eligible to compete at the Paralympics.
“He has a heart of a lion on and off the mats,” said Park. “He is well mannered as our taekwondo sport promotes integrity, courtesy, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit, which are five tenets of taekwondo. Our cadet and junior athletes learn from his disciplined training method, dedication, and sometimes reminds us how fortunate we are.”
Gouzae has expressed his gratitude to Park, who has sponsored him with equipments, uniforms, warm-ups, flights, hotels, competition registration fees, and much more from fundraising events.
The team is preparing for the New York State Championships this weekend and will be competing in April at the National Collegiate Taekwondo Association High School Championships in Texas.
“He will be representing Niger and we’re very thrilled,” said Park. “It would greatly help if outside sources of sponsorships recognize his passion and dedication for his Olympic dream.”