11 July 2019


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Pavel and Anna Haddad are two of Notre Dame University-Louaize’s star athletes. Specializing in Tae Kwon Do, both are representing NDU in this year’s Summer Universiade 2019 competition in Napoli. We met up with them to discuss their experiences on campus, their training regimen, and how they approach their sport.  

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

Pavel: I started out as a computer science student, but I felt that it wasn’t for me. My mom always told me “you’re a good speaker, you talk well, why don’t you just give it a go?” So I changed major, and I found myself studying International Affairs and Diplomacy. I really like it. I’d like to go work in the Nordic countries, somewhere near Norway/Sweden, try to be a diplomat or maybe someday an ambassador there.

Anna: I’m studying finance. I just felt it was a safe choice, there are always job opportunities. I prefer my accounting courses more than other courses, but overall it’s enjoyable.

How did you get into Tae Kwon Do?

Pavel: Our mom teaches at a place where there was Tae Kwon Do, when I was 3, she took me there to try, and since then I’ve trained.

Anna: I used to watch him, since I’m younger, and then I followed.

What belt have you attained at this point?

Pavel: Black belt, fourth degree, and I have my fifth degree exam next month.

Anna: And I’m also a fourth degree black belt.

Can you walk us through how you warm up, the exercises you do, and what exactly being a fourth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do involves?

Pavel: Basically jog and stretch, because if I don’t warm up, I get injured and I’m out for two/three weeks. Your muscles become sore and you need to stretch otherwise you become stiff. Light kicks at first. Start slowly and then after 45 minutes you can start training at full speed and strength.

Can you walk me through what it means to be in a Tae Kwon Do competition?

Pavel: Tae Kwon Do is divided into two parts: traditional and Olympic. And almost everybody practices the Olympic type because they are aiming to join the games. You have the chest protector and the head protector, these are the areas you can kick. Straight kicks to the chest give you two points, spinning kicks to the chest give you four points. To the head, straight kicks are three points, spinning kicks are worth five. You can also use a punch, only to the chest, and that’s worth one point. Traditional Tae Kwon Do is more of an artform, you have to memorize and perform movements, plus you have the self-defense aspect, and traditional sparring aspect. They are looking to integrate the traditional movement part into the Olympics because some people don’t like to fight so they use those methods. We focus on Olympic, but we can do the other aspect.

Is traditional sparring more aggressive then?

Anna: It’s not more aggressive, but they don’t wear protectors, and the touch is supposed to be light, you can’t kick as hard.

Pavel: In Olympic Tae Kwon Do, you can hit harder, there are knockouts. The head protectors are somewhat helpful.

Could you walk us through your various achievements?

Anna: I’ve been Lebanese champion since 2014 (undefeated), and I’ve competed in three world championships until now. I have six gold medals in international competitions, scored sixth place in Asian games, and hopefully soon I will be able to add to these achievements.

Pavel: I’ve been two-time junior Lebanese champion, and two-time senior Lebanese champion running for the past two years, and aiming for a third this year hopefully. I’m a silver medalist in the Arab championships. I have one international gold medal, one silver, and two bronze.

What do you do to prepare for championships?

Anna: We train every day, and we have different aspects of training. We train physically, for our endurance and fitness, and then there’s the Tae Kwon Do part where we enhance our techniques, and try to learn new ones.

How have you found your sports life at NDU?

Pavel: There was a Tae Kwon Do team before, the teacher is Master Joe Khoury and we’ve known him since before we came to NDU, because he used to be the head of the Lebanese referee committee for Tae Kwon Do. As soon as we came here he helped us join the team instantly, it was really great and simple.

What sort of level are you representing NDU on?

Pavel: Right now we’re representing NDU on an international level at the Universiade in Napoli, which is basically the Olympics, but for university students.

How do you feel about it?

Anna: Personally, I’m very excited and hopefully I’ll be able to achieve the first gold medal for Lebanon at the Universiade.

Do you feel you’re supported by NDU?

Anna: I am enjoying my time, they’re really helpful. Whenever I have a trip for a competition they help me reschedule my exams, and in general I like the university.

Pavel: Same here. I have friends here, and the teachers are really cool. Every time I have a trip they always help me.

The way you’ve been talking about Tae Kwon Do it’s almost something like a profession, how do you find your approach to the sport in relation to the broader Lebanese perception? Is it frustrating or something you embrace?

Pavel: Actually, it’s very frustrating when people think we’re just doing it as a hobby. Every time we have a trip people tell us “good luck, go in,” but we know that they’re just saying that to be nice, and feel like we’re going to lose. They have no hope for any kind of sport except basketball recently…

Anna: They don’t really care, honestly. Whenever I tell my friends “I can’t go out, I have to train,” they say “skip training, who cares? Why are you wasting your time? You’re never going to reach anything.” Outside of NDU, people aren’t really supportive in Lebanon, they don’t really understand.

Is there a flip-side to this? Or is it the same everywhere?

Pavel: We have two teammates, a guy named Michel Samaha, who used to train in Mont La Salle where I practiced, the guy has a bronze Olympic medal at the Junior Olympics. And we have a girl named Andrea, she qualified for the Olympics, the first person to do so from Lebanon, she was second place at all the qualifiers and lost out at the Bronze Medal on a very small score. And my teacher is Asian champion. They really give us motivation, because we see we have people who reached great heights, so why can’t we do it? That’s what gives us motivation.

: As he said, we have proof right in front of our eyes that it is possible to achieve, and we’re not going to stop what we do.

Pavel: The new federation is helping out a lot, we had our first championship where other countries came to Lebanon to compete last year, and we’re having a second one this year. So they are really helping out, and giving Tae Kwon Do hope.

Very broadly speaking in sports there are people who play to win and people who play to play. Where do you guys fit?

Anna: I do get satisfaction from just playing. I like competing, but of course, the ultimate satisfaction comes from winning.

Pavel: When I was younger, I used to lose, and my mom used to force me to stay in Tae Kwon Do, and I’m glad because now when I fight, I feel the thrill. Especially in training when there’s no stress, it’s much easier so I enjoy it; and when I win, the thrill feeling triples or quadruples. Winning certainly adds to it, but we’d be doing Tae Kwon Do regardless.

  • Meet NDU Athletes Fadel and Anna Haddad 1
  • Meet NDU Athletes Fadel and Anna Haddad 2
  • Meet NDU Athletes Fadel and Anna Haddad 1
  • Meet NDU Athletes Fadel and Anna Haddad 2


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