NHS intensive care Covid hero who turned to martial arts to cope with the stress of the pandemic goes on to win world title
- Becky Sheppard, 25, from Bristol, was working in intensive care during Covid
- She turned to Tang Soo Do to relieve some stress after tough shifts at work
- Since has competed in world championships in the US, winning three medals
An NHS intensive care Covid hero who turned to martial arts to cope with the stress of the pandemic has won a world title.
Becky Sheppard, 25, from Bristol, was working in intensive care in her first job when Covid-19 broke out.
The 25-year-old was doing respiratory therapy with people, helping them to breathe more easily after illness or accidents and witnessed the horrifying impact of coronavirus first-hand.
To alleviate some stress after work, she upped her martial arts training in the Korean-based Tang Soo Do art which is one of the oldest systems, promoting self-defence, physical and spiritual health as well as personal development.
She trains at Brenty Tang Soo Do Club in Bristol and has since competed in world championships in the US, winning two gold medals and a silver, for weapons, sparring and forms respectively.
Becky Sheppard, 25, from Bristol, pictured, was working in intensive care in her first job when Covid-19 broke out. To alleviate some stress after work, she upped her martial arts training in the Korean-based Tang Soo Do art which is one of the oldest systems, promoting self-defence, physical and spiritual health as well as personal development
She said of working during the pandemic: ‘I was working with people who were critically ill and being treated while ventilated and hooked up to a lot of wires. It was quite intimidating to see and there was the fear of doing harm to people who were very unwell.
‘It was a big responsibility and a lot of pressure. I would often deal with the same patients every day and get quite close to them, so it was heart-breaking when some died.
‘People who were my age, or at the very least younger than my parents, didn’t always recover, which brought the reality home to me. But other times people recovered against the odds and that was uplifting.’
Becky explained: ‘We come across life and death situations and it’s important to stay calm. I trained in Tang Soo Do to help me wind down, build confidence and for my mental health.
‘One of the principles of first aid is to look after yourself – and you are better able to look after other people. By keeping my spirits high, I was better able to motivate my patients and team.’
She trains at Brenty Tang Soo Do Club in Bristol and has since competed in world championships in the US, winning two gold medals and a silver, for weapons, sparring and forms respectively. Pictured: Becky and members of Team GB at World Championships in North Carolina
Becky competed in the Female 2nd Dan Black Belt category and the team brought back the overall male and female Grand Champion trophies. Pictured: With instructor Master Kristian Reed
The 25-year-old, who has reached the rank of E Dan, 2nd degree, previously qualified for the world championships during a UK competition in the Spring.
Despite winning trophies, she did not do as well as she hoped because she had a ‘mental block.’
She said: ‘Sometimes life gets in the way and we all have our ups and downs. I remember I’d had a particularly difficult week at work and didn’t concentrate fully or perform at my best. But that’s life and it was a motivation to pick myself up, make more time for myself and make sure I would be better next time.’
But she worked on her technique with her instructor, Master Kristian Reed, over several months before heading to North Carolina with more than 100 members from Team GB.
She competed in the Female 2nd Dan Black Belt category and the team brought back the overall male and female Grand Champion trophies.
Fellow club member Mitch Hopes, 31, won two gold medals for forms and sparring in the Male 1st Dan Black Belt category.
Fellow club member Mitch Hopes, 31, won two gold medals for forms and sparring in the Male 1st Dan Black Belt category. Pictured: Becky with her medals at the World Championships in the US
She did her Tang Soo Do training on Zoom during lockdown and said that it was nice to see familiar faces and exercise as it was a mood booster. Pictured: Becky at the club
The 25-year-old now works across hospitals Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health board for NHS Wales as a rotational physiotherapist.
She did her Tang Soo Do training on Zoom during lockdown and said that it was nice to see familiar faces and exercise as it was a mood booster.
Becky said that it got her off the sofa and challenged her mentally and physically.
During lockdown, she was not training for anything and was using it for fun and an outlet after work, focusing on the moment.
She explained that she did not know how long lockdown would last at that point.
Becky has been doing Tang Soo Do since she was six, along with her sister Alice.
For her parents, who later took up the sport themselves, it helped to improve their ‘high-energy’ daughter’s concentration at school.
After a four-year break from the martial art as a teenager which coincided with her parents divorcing and studying for her GCSEs, she returned.
She was more focused and mature. Since, Becky, Alice and her mother have gained their black belts.
The 25-year-old said: ‘I was more serious and focused when I went back. I’ve learned now that during times of stress it’s tempting to put things you enjoy aside – but perhaps that’s when you most need it most.’
Becky, an assistant instructor at the club, said: ‘I enjoy competing as it gives me a goal to work towards and winning a world title has certainly been a highlight. Competing encourages you to push yourself physically and mentally, as well as providing an opportunity to travel and meet new people.
‘But I also enjoy the art itself, which promotes respect, discipline and self-defence. The club is massively family orientated and a very supportive group, with everyone working to help each other improve.
‘I’ve trained with great instructors who are passionate about the art and their enthusiasm is contagious. I first trained with Master Rob Wootton, who would do a 120-move pattern, with a forward roll, to keep me motivated. I looked up to him and wanted to be able to do the same when I grew up.
‘Master Reed cares about his students and is keen to share his knowledge with others. He has been successful in competitions as well and he found the techniques which worked for me.’
Becky, Alice and her mother have gained their black belts. Pictured: Becky and Alice as children
Master Reed, 29, a 4th Dan Master and European champion in weapons, forms and sparring, started training at the age of seven and teaching at the age of 18.
He said: ‘Becky worked hard and we are all really proud of her at the club. It’s a pleasure to instruct people who want to improve, not just for competitions, but personal development as well.’
Chuck Norris, the martial arts film star, is a student of the art. He displayed his techniques in films such as Way of the Dragon with Bruce Lee.
Tang Soo Do is the same style taught by Kreese’s captain in Vietnam in the Cobra Kai series, a sequel to the 1980s Karate Kid films.
And Grandmaster Pat E Johnson was the martial arts choreographer for the original films, holding a 9th degree black belt in the art.
Johnson rose through the ranks to chief instructor at Norris’ school and captain of the Chuck Norris black belt competition team.
Master Reed said: ‘It’s great that popular culture is raising awareness of martial arts. It’s more than just kicking and punching – it’s about following a code of conduct, developing focus, confidence and resilience.
‘I’ve seen how people have been struggling during a difficult time in life and it’s helped get them unstuck. I believe it can and does change lives.’
Students of Tang Soo Do have credited it with developing focus, clarity, greater flexibility and strength.
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