Theo Matthews has been taken under the wing of Stoke City legend to defy expectations and win medals
Meet Theo Matthews, the nine-year-old who is taking the term ‘fighting spirit’ to new levels.
Theo has been taken under the wing of Stoke City legend Mike Pejic to claim a national silver medal and call up to train with Team GB in taekwondo.
That’s a stellar achievement in itself, but how he got there makes it truly remarkable.
Theo was born with a rare unbalanced chromosome rearrangement that meant numerous health problems, including a hole in the heart and clubfoot.
He didn’t walk until he was three – and needed to go back into Birmingham Children’s Hospital on his sixth birthday for nine-hour open heart surgery.
He struggles with fine motor skills, unable to handle buttons, zips or laces on his own, and manages at Sun Academy, Bradwell, thanks to one-to-one support.
A recent report says he does not have the capacity to retain information … but then comes taekwondo.
Theo has been training with Pejic for about two years, loving the chance to practice the patterns of poomsae; the forms side of the martial art.
He was invited to train with the British Paralympic squad in Southport last month and coaches were so impressed they encouraged him to enter the upcoming national championships in Nottingham.
Special dispensation was granted to rush him into the competition and he performed brilliantly to land second place in the P20 category for junior boys.
Now he has been invited to train with the British team again and is being earmarked to compete at an international event in April – and another in June in Austria.
Pejic, as ambitious as ever, is already thinking he has a potential Paralympian on his hands.
Mum Lisa Matthews said: “Theo needs support every day at home and in school to complete the tasks that so many of us take for granted.
“His recent occupational therapy report says he doesn’t have the capacity in his brain to retain information, but I disagree as he remembers lots of things, including all of his patterns in taekwondo.
“He also suffers from high anxiety levels and small things make him worry immensely, but when he is doing taekwondo this doesn’t show at all. He is confident and happy when he’s doing his forms with Mike.
“Mike has given him such a great opportunity and I’m very thankful.”
Theo is still monitored every 12 months for regurgitation of the aortic valve and has had many operations.
Pejic, who runs his own taekwondo academy in Chesterton as well as an after-school club at the Sun Academy, said: “He’s an amazing little boy and to watch how he has progressed has been inspirational.
“I look at him and see with taekwondo being accepted into the Paralympics in 2020 that you never know what can happen.”
Pejic is currently coaching about 50 students in all and has been happy to start entering his Academy into tournaments, with medals already starting to come in.
Eleven-year-olds Harry Tomblin and Maja Stobiecka picked up bronzes at the nationals, while Izzy Mear, aged nine, won silver.
“To come away with medals is great for the club and for themselves,” said 68-year-old Pejic, who retained his own national title for a fourth year running, this time in the 66+ age group.
“Poomsae is tough. You go out there on your own in front of five judges and a big audience to be marked on every small detail from movement and accuracy to breath control and presentation.
“It’s a unique competition and you have to be incredibly disciplined and very strong mentally. It’s wonderful to teach.”