2020 Visionary: Anthony Cappello

In 2019, 20/20 Armor embarked on a search for individuals who excelled not only as athletes but as people who genuinely inspire us.

“We were looking for remarkable people,” says 20/20 Armor CEO Ali  Ghafour, “people who represent the values of respect, competition, and love of Taekwondo that inspire us in our mission to elevate the sport. We’re calling these individuals our 20/20 Visionaries.”

Anthony Cappello, Montreal born, 28 years old, World Para-Taekwondo Championships Silver Medalist, was a natural choice.

“Anthony is the sort of person you want your kids to have as a role model,” says Ghafour. “He has a positivity that is contagious. But you don’t know him until you see him fight in the ring. His fighting style is just amazing, a total throwback to the TKD I fell in love with.”

Which is why we sent Cappello a pair of electronic chestguards to help him train. We asked him about the first time he heard about 20/20 Armor.

“Oh my god,” says Cappello with his trademark enthusiasm. “It was in the Canada Open. I saw the Armor in the prototype version and thought it was the coolest thing. I’m looking forward to training a lot with it. Strength, precision, timing, accuracy… all that stuff are things I want to work on. Because I have big things I want to accomplish, and I need all the help I can get.”  

To understand why we chose Anthony we’re going to tell you a little bit of his story.
It was February 5th, 2019, an hour before the beginning of the opening ceremonies for the 2019 World Para-Taekwondo Championships in Antalya, Turkey.  Anthony Cappello was focusing on his upcoming fights, going over his strategy, when an event manager approached him and asked if he would like to hold the Canadian flag in the opening ceremony.  

The moment they handed him the flag he experienced a moment of almost indescribable pride.

When Anthony was born, both his arms were much shorter than average, his left arm didn’t have an elbow and he only has two fingers on each hand. He struggled with being different from the other children. But he wasn’t struggling as he held the flag aloft over his shoulders and represented his country on the global stage.
It was one of the biggest moments of the Montreal-born, second-degree black belt’s life. But later that weekend it would be eclipsed by an even bigger moment.
We’ll come back to that. But to understand what follows, we have to go back to the beginning.
Anthony was a shy eight-year-old who knew he wasn’t like the other kids in his class, and then Taekwondo changed his life forever.

His mother Laura, who had been looking for an after-school activity for his brother in their home city of Montreal, enrolled Anthony’s brothers Armando and Michael, in Academie De Taekwondo Raymond Mourad.

In the beginning, Anthony watched through the window when his mother came to pick his brothers up from class. He began mimicking the moves they made,  wishing he were them.

After his mother realized his interest, she enlisted him in classes at the dojang too. He became instantly obsessed. But he was still young. As the years passed. he became more interested in soccer. Soon after he stopped practicing TKD altogether.  

But then, at age 20, Cappello decided to enter the world of competitive Taekwondo.  Which, as Anthony admits, is extremely late to start. He fights in the under 61 kg division but weighs in at just 53 kg.

“All organized team sports are really, really tough to get into and stick with,” says Cappello. “I got hard cut from soccer when I was 16. I knew I didn’t have a future in it.  I admit after soccer I really had a rough few years. Work started to get more demanding and I desperately searching for a new sport to help with stress and confidence, and to me out of my own head.” That’s when he called his former coach, Master Raymond, who just happens to be a 13-time national champion, and asked if he was still coaching. He was. “It felt like fate.”

Taekwondo changed Anthony’s life. It gave him the confidence he needed. And his experience in soccer had given him strong, powerful legs. In Taekwondo, he’s become known for being explosive and moving across the ring with incredible speed.

These days, he divides his time between his job at his family’s construction firm and training for the sport. He has dedicated every spare moment to get a little faster, to have a better game plan for his next match.
Everything was going according to plan at the World Para championship.  In Anthony’s first fight, he took down a new competitor from China (25-15). In the second match, he faced one of the rising stars of the sport — Japan’s Kenta Awatari — and won decisively, scoring 25-16, putting him into the semi-finals. There, Anthony faced down Spain’s Alejandro Alvarez in a to-the-wire 15-13 victory.

Now he only had to beat his rival Bopha Kong from France and take home the gold. “I met Bopha in the semi-finals in London,” says Cappello. “It’s one of the big rivalries in the division. The only one I have a barrier with. When I first met him, I brought him to sudden death.”

And now they were opposite one another in the finals. What is it like to make it to the finals of a world event?

“It’s exhilarating,” says Cappello. “It’s like you just got into an F1 car and you’re going 500 miles an hour. Your heart is hitting the back of your chest. To harness the pressure and all the anxiety and use it is the challenge. It’s the most fun and most terrifying thing you can do.”

He trained for that feeling.  He’d gone over Bopha’s videos looking for weaknesses. He tried to find people to train with who have a similar style to Bopha. Although it’s been hard to find para-athletes to spar with, he has a game plan and he’s going to execute it.

But then, his plan didn’t work. This time. Despite all the training and hard work, he took a hard loss (34-9) and had to settle for silver. He isn’t giving up.  “My eyes are definitely on him. But I still haven’t been able to crack him yet.”
Living with his disability hasn’t always been easy and has taught Cappello important lessons when dealing with setbacks.

“You can’t beat yourself up when you have something like I do,” says Cappello.  “You can’t blame others. You can’t blame yourself. Sometimes you’re going to be weak. When I was growing up I could barely pick up a bottle, or pick up a pencil to write. You have to keep trying to be as positive as possible.”

Anthony intimately knows the struggles of being a Para Athlete and how easy it can be to get stuck into your head.

“You go into any sport as a para guy, you immediately might feel a ton of emotions,” says Cappello. “You think about what other people are feeling.  You might think they feel pity for you, that they are excited for you that in a way that you think you don’t deserve. You might feel all these weird emotions, you might feel underestimated. It’s the farthest thing from the truth. People admire you and respect what they see. That’s why they support you and that’s why they cheer for you. You have to have confidence. Because it’s tough but you’re capable of making it happen. If you go far, you go far and you’re just like everyone else.”

Even though he’d lost to his rival Bopha Kong in the golden round, his tournament wasn’t over. He was taking pictures with his coach Raymond Mourad when someone told him to go on stage.

He has been picked as the tournament MVP.

“You don’t see it coming,” says Cappello, voice full of excitement as he recalls the surreal nature of that landmark moment in his life. “You can train the hardest you can. I’m going to remember that feeling for the rest of my life. It was the highpoint of my competitive career.”

His dreams aren’t over. Like everyone else at the top of competitive Taekwondo, Anthony wants to go to the Paralympics 2020. But his eyes are currently on the Pan-Ams in Lima in 2019. And he’s going. Hopefully, he’ll make it to the podium but he’s just excited for the chance to compete.

“My biggest and brightest goal is just staying in the sport,” says Cappello.  “If I could be a coach or run my own school, if I could inspire and be around this sport forever, my life would continue to be great!”

As he shares this dream, it’s impossible not to recall those days when he looked through the window at the Academie De Taekwondo Raymond Mourad in Montreal and watched the class practicing and wished he were with them.
And now, imagine another kid just like Anthony looking through a window and seeing Anthony himself inside teaching the class. The kid will be nervous as his mother signs him up.  But then that kid will get to see the world as Anthony does and develop the endless enthusiasm and love for a sport that taught Anthony he could fight to become the person he wants to be.  

Someday, Anthony will join a long line of coaches and school owners who have seen something in young men and women and changed their lives forever. Thank you, Anthony, for helping us see why we love the sport. Thanks for being a 20/20 Visionary.

If you’d like to support Paralympic athletes like Anthony please go to http://games.paralympic.cva/foundation/how-you-can-help to donate. To bring our vision to your school please open the chat on this page and start a conversation about how we can help you use 20/20 armor to attract new students, retain the ones you do have and create new revenue streams through branded classes and tournaments. You can also read this article about how 20/20 Armor can make your school 40K in a year: https://2020armor.com/blogs/news/92890499-first-post