27 September 2022

The Aussie defying the odds to compete with “half a heart” at the Oceania Championships

As he packed his bags for the Oceania Poomsae Championships in Tahiti, David King could still remember lying in an Intensive Care Unit, wondering if he would survive.

King found himself there in 2018 after a routine visit to the doctor led to the discovery of a heart attack.

“I was 47 at the time and had some back pain and never really gave it much thought. I’d been doing weights the day before, so it was the same sort of pain as when I got muscle pain from weights,” King says.

He assumed it was nothing sinister and went ahead with a trip to Sydney, where he began to experience shortness of breath.

“‘Doctor Google’ said it was a collapsed lung, so I thought, ‘ok, no worries, when I get home, I’ll get it checked out’.

“I went back home the next day and visited the doctor, and he said, ‘ok pack your bag and go to the hospital, it looks like a collapsed lung’.

“I got to the hospital, they hooked me up to the devices and it turned out that I’d had a heart attack and one of my arteries was blocked with a blood clot.”

King was immediately placed in the ICU, with no guarantees that he’d ever make it out.

“I was in the ICU for a week and they didn’t expect me to survive.

“There were a lot of different tests, I kept getting different doctors coming through because it was such a rare sort of clot that I had.”

Since King was unaware of his heart problems until well after the attack, the doctors were unable to place a stent in the blocked artery. The artery was instead left to die off, and a defibrillator was installed there.

“Basically, it’s all dead tissue cells around that area of the heart now. I joke sometimes that I’m ‘half-hearted’.”

The operation was a success and the Queenslander managed to pull through, but his enormous relief was tempered by the doctor’s lifestyle advice.

“The doctor sat me down when I was back in the normal ward, told me to give up any thoughts of martial arts or sport, or anything like that, and just to basically live day by day.”

It was a crushing blow as Taekwondo was far more than a sport to King – it had been a lifelong pursuit of self-growth.

The 7th Dan Black Belt had been teaching the martial art since he was 18 years old, running the Two Kings Martial Arts Gym with his brother in Loganholme for decades.

It wasn’t long though, before his determination and strength of will took hold, giving him the resolve he needed to continue his Taekwondo journey, despite the risks.

“I’ve done it [Taekwondo] for so long, it’s in my blood,” King says. “It becomes part of you, like walking.

“All my life, when I’ve been told ‘no’, I can’t do something, it basically puts my back up and I say ‘no, I’m going to do it’.

“When I got out of hospital I thought ‘I’m going to keep going’.”

The care he received from his family, and their willingness to support his aspirations to get active again, also gave him a huge lift.

“I know my Mum was very upset [at the hospital],” he recalls. “She told me kids aren’t supposed to die before their parents. It gave her a really big shock.

“But at the end of the day, they [family] supported whatever I wanted to do.”

He started with simple, non-intensive activities, such as short walks. Then, he gradually increased the intensity of his exercise, and began to practice complex patterns of punches and kicks.

Just three weeks after leaving the hospital, King competed at the 2018 Australian Open in the Poomsae category.

“I put myself in that bubble wrap sort of effect and was a bit more cautious about everything, but I went and competed at the Australian Open.

“I just thought, ‘I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to be one of those people that’s just living on a pension and just biding their time, waiting for something to happen to them’.

“I competed in every competition after the Australian Open that I could.”

King also continued to run his business, guiding numerous young talents to State and Regional Championships.

His rapid recovery, resilience and spirit, earned him the 2019 Logan City Sports Award for athletes over 35, and he has continued to build on that success.

By 2022, King clinched a place at the Oceania Poomsae Championships, after winning the over 50 category at the Australian National Selection Event.

He believes his flexibility is what sets him apart in Poomsae – an attribute he’s worked tirelessly to perfect for most of his life.

It had been applied in Kyorugi for many years, with King trading kicks and punches with Australian Taekwondo legends such as the late Nathan Lyons and Jeff Kelly. He took home numerous bronze medals from the National Championships during that period.

Now that he’s stopped sparring to preserve his health, Poomsae has become King’s sole focus, and he’s itching to showcase his skills on the international stage.

Striving for perfection in his kicks, punches and blocks not only helps King keep the blood pumping throughout his body, but also calms his mind.

He feels this was apparent in recent performances and hopes to do himself justice in Tahiti. However, what he wants most of all, is to inspire those watching him compete.

While individual accomplishments are thrilling, for King, nothing beats the satisfaction of “inspiring people to get up and have a go.”

“Students come in and they look at you in awe because you can do stuff and they go ‘wow, I want to do that’.”

Regardless of the outcome, King's health is now in a far better place. For example, his Ejection Fraction (EF) rate, which measures how much blood is being pumped from his heart's left ventricle with each contraction, has been regularly monitored since he left the ICU. Upon discharge, his EF rate was 39 per cent.

Today it stands at 49 per cent - just shy of the average for a fully healthy heart.

“I run five to eight kilometres three or four times a week now. Just to be doing that on a normal heart is pretty good!”

Physical feats aside, King urges athletes of all ages and abilities to stick with Taekwondo, as it can help them face any challenge, no matter what life throws at them.

“Don’t give up. Just keep moving forward, keep gaining the knowledge, and keep excelling and making yourself healthier.

“Taekwondo is always there to help."

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