Proudly at Peace

How One ATA Instructor Overcame It All

For some, competing for a World Championship title is the highlight of the annual ATA Martial Arts World Expo in Little Rock. For Stephen Bethards of Lexington, Kentucky, there was much more on the line.

"With my stress and my anxiety and stuff like that, I don't really focus a whole lot on what's coming next," he said.

The cause of that stress is easy to deduce. He served in the Army for 10 years, partly stationed in Iraq. He sustained multiple injuries while overseas and endured more than the average person can take. 

"I was a gunner in Iraq, so basically I setup on top of the Humvee. We had a concussive blast that affected my nervous system completely. I guess it shut it down, is what I've been told. I woke up in the hospital in Iraq and I have had heart problems ever since."

Bethards said he underwent ablation heart surgery, yet still has multiple attacks each week.

"I could be sitting here just completely relaxed and calm, and my heart rate will shoot up to 150, 170 beats a minute."  Many of his health complications stem from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

"To see all the destruction first hand that happens over there, it's just tough to deal with."

As he struggled to relearn how to control his emotions, he secluded himself for several years.  But then he found a new home. 

Taekwondo entered his life at a time when he needed it the most. On his 30th birthday, a friend gave him a gift certificate to try martial arts. 

"Immediately, I just loved it," he said. "The structure of it, the discipline reminded me a lot of the military."

In seven short years, Bethards has won three World Championship titles. He's also become a certified instructor.

"It's kind of like being reborn a little bit," he said. "It gave me a sense of purpose again.

Now, Bethards serves as a chief instructor and

"I'm 100 percent."

Not only is this veteran strong.  He’s ATA Strong. 


Author: Jenny Wolff 


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