From collecting rubbish to world champion

Published: 21/03/2010 05:00



Hard years of making a living by collecting waste didn’t hinder Nguyen Dinh Toan’s strong will, instead it helped him become world taekwondo champion.

Nguyen Dinh Toan (middle) and his team.

Toan’s father, Nguyen Dinh Hoan, was born by a Vietnamese mother and a Russian father nad then left to be nurtured at the Hanoi Obstetrics Hospital before a poor woman from Hoai Duc District, Hanoi, brought him home.

Toan was born in 1986. He joined Hanoi’s taekwondo team in 2004. He won a silver medal for men’s pattern at the World Taekwondo Championship in South Korea in 2006. In 2007, he won a bronze medal for men’s pattern at the World Taekwondo Championship. The next year he and Nguyen Minh Tu got the gold medal for mixed doubles and the silver medal for men’s pattern at the World Champs in Turkey.

In 2009, he won two gold medals for the men’s team and mixed doubles at the Southeast Asian Taekwondo Champs. He also won two silver medals for the men’s team and mixed doubles at the World Student Games and a gold medal for mixed doubles and a gold medal for men’s team at the World Champs in Egypt. In addition he won a gold medal for the men’s team and one gold medal for mixed doubles at the 25th SEA Games.

The sorrowful childhood enhanced Hoan’s love for his adoptive mother and especially his children. But his impoverish life forced Hoan to take his wife and three children to Lang Son province to look for a means of subsistence in 1993. There, Toan’s mother, Hien, worked as a vendor while his father Hoan worked as a builder.

At the age of 6, Toan had to quit school to collect waste to assist his family. Three years later, the family returned to Hoai Duc, Hanoi.

Toan’s Buddha

After three years of collecting rubbish in Lang Son, Toan returned to school again. After school, the 10-year-old boy did farm work like an adult.

“He planted rice very fast and in straight lines. I and my daughter couldn’t catch up him. When he was 11-12, Toan was only 34kg in weight and less than 1.5m tall but he could carry rice double his weight. Perhaps the life was so hard so he couldn’t get taller,” Mrs. Hien’s eyes are wet with tears when she talks about her son.

Until now, the woman couldn’t forget days of hunger and hardship that her family and his son experienced.

In 2000, Toan began practicing taekwondo at school. The boy was immediately bewitched by this martial art and showed incredible ability. Three months later, he participated in the Open Hanoi Taekwondo Championship and won a gold medal for the men’s 36kg category.

Seeing Toan’s gift for taekwondo, his father who was working as a builder in the mountainous provinces of Cao Bang and Yen Bai, returned home to seek an instructor for his son. At the recommendation of an acquaintance, he pedaled a bicycle to carry Toan from Hoai Duc to Hanoi to see coach Le Minh Khuong.

At first sight, coach Khuong didn’t want to accept the dirty, thin and short boy (at the age of 14, Toan was 1.50m tall and 40kg) but pitied the boy who loved taekwondo so much and the coach agreed to instruct him. Each Saturday morning, Toan rode the bicycle on the 30km road from Hoai Duc to Tran Quy Cap Street to practice taekwondo with coach Khuong.

Since then, Toan moved to Khuong’s house to live. The coach also encouraged Toan to study at school. The coach’s big heart has opened a bright future for Toan and Khuong’s wife, Lien, has become Toan’s second mother.

“Without teacher Khuong and the time at the house No. 96 Tran Quy Cap,I would not be what I am today. I’m extremely grateful to my teacher and his wife,” Toan said

“Everything that Toan has archived is thanks to Mr. Khuong,” Toan’s mother said in tears.

To repay Khuong’s heart, Toan has never failed to do his exercises. He was called up to Hanoi’s taekwondo team. He studied and practiced taekwondo in Khuong’s house. Lacking space for practice, he did exercise on the pavements of Trinh Hoai Duc street for more than two years.

Success made of sweat and hardships

Nguyen Dinh Toan and coach Le Minh Khuong.

After a long time practicing taekwondo, Toan becomes extremely calm and patient. “Practicing taekwondo, especially requires an undisturbed mind. But it can be very lonely,” Toan said.

The first national medal that Toan won was a silver medal for the men’s team of pattern at the National Taekwondo Championship 204. This is the most meaningful gift Toan presented his parents and coach Khuong after four years of practicing taekwondo.

He won the silver medal for the men’s singles at the World Taekwondo Championship in South Korea 2006. That year Toan bought a first TV set for his family. After many years of hardship, the family is very happy to enjoy Toan’s achievements.

Since 2006, Toan has ruled the men’s pattern category in Vietnam. Inside the boy of 1.60m, 50kg, there is extraordinary effort and energy to overcome many difficulties. Toan has won three world gold medals for men’s team and mixed doubles to Vietnam and a dozens of regional and continental medals.

Returning from the SEA Games 2009 with two gold medals for mixed doubles (with Nguyen Minh Tu) and men’s team (with Le Trung Anh and Vu Thanh Duong), Toan had only two days with his family because he had to practice and teach at taekwondo classes. He is now a second-year student of the Sports and Physical Training University, too. He also studies Korean and English to benefit his teaching work.

All the people in his hometown now know about the world taekwondo champion Nguyen Dinh Toan. That’s what makes Toan’s family so proud.


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