ADAMS TOWNSHIP — Identical twin Clinton-Massie freshmen each recently earned a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. What makes the feat even more remarkable is the two teenagers have Down syndrome.
Cooper and Matthew Lewis started practicing the discipline of the Korean martial art when they were 8 and lived in Virginia. The idea came from their parents Doug and Cristina who wanted to see whether the training would help the strength, coordination, concentration and focus of their sons.
Cooper and Matthew took to it, continued it and clearly have excelled at it.
“We didn’t think they were going to like it, but we believe in letting them try something, and then if they want to keep up with it, they want to keep up with it,” said their mother.
Early on, Cooper stopped practicing — he didn’t seem so interested in it, said Cristina. But then he wanted to start back up after a couple weeks. However his parents made him wait a month or two to make sure he really wanted to get back into it. When he returned, he stayed with it the whole time.
Mr. and Mrs. Lewis also began Tae Kwon Do practices when their boys began. Doug figured if his sons were going to be learning it and he was going to help out, he might as well learn it himself and they could progress together.
Christina said she tried, but couldn’t remember all the steps.
“The fact that they can remember all those steps just blows my mind,” she said.
Prior to starting the regimen, the parents spoke with a doctor because children with Down syndrome sometimes have an issue with their spine being out of line, so they had to get that cleared.
They did X-rays beforehand and have repeated the imaging three times since. Everything was OK and the training seems to have helped.
“I mean their balance is fantastic because of it,” the mother said.
Both parents believe the Tae Kwon Do workouts have helped their sons’ focus.
Cristina was apprehensive about the boys getting injured during the sparring part of the sport. But there is a lot of protective gear, she said, and the sparring skill-set includes learning how to defend against strikes.
Though successful sparring involves landing kicks and punches, being able “to defend is just as important,” said dad.
His apprehensions were eased by the fact participants advance at their own pace — “you don’t throw them into something if they’re not ready for it” — and a lot of it is non-contact other than the sparring and some self-defense moves.
And actually, one of the main things initially concerning Cristina was that the boys do Tae Kwon Do only at the Kettering training center and not practice on classmates at school.
The respect the boys have for the martial art enables them to know not to do it anywhere else, she said. That is, unless absolutely necessary — they have learned self-defense and she doesn’t want them bullied.
That’s not been a problem at Clinton-Massie, said Cristina, where other Massie students are supportive of the 16-year-old twins.
Doug noted Cooper and Matthew had to attain the same standards and requirements as he was held to when he received his third-degree black belt the same day as his sons. The requirements were not modified because of their Down syndrome.
“I feel very protected when I walk down the street,” said Cristina of the three black belt holders in her family.
Taking on and becoming proficient in Tae Kwon Do has made Cooper and Matthew more mature, she feels.
“It’s given them a niche; they really have a responsibility to it, almost like a job so to speak, and it gets them ready for the real world,” Mrs. Lewis said.
Mr. Lewis “definitely” thinks the training and exercise has helped his sons’ strength and coordination, memory and focus.
“Sometimes I’ll forget to move and one of them will tell me what’s next,” he added. Even the most basic series of motions have about 15 to 18 moves in a set pattern, whereas the more complicated ones have up to 25 to 30.
Matthew said he becomes “super excited” when he learns a new series of motions, called a form.
Cooper said he feels like he is strong when he breaks a board during Tae Kwon Do.
Cristina offered, “Just recently we discussed the whole Down syndrome, so they’re very aware of it now. They don’t care, because we brought them up just as two boys, right?”
In reply, one son said “Yes” and his twin said “right.”
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.