Park Sang-cheol grew up practicing the Korean martial art taekwondo in a uniform made from flour sacks used at a U.S. military base. Though he lived in poverty, his passion for taekwondo eventually led him to his first job teaching the sport to U.S. servicemen.
Park Sang-cheol (L) has worked as the Gabonese presidents bodyguard for 26 years. (Photo courtesy of the South Korean embassy in Libreville, Gabon) (Yonhap)
After discovering a job advertisement recruiting bodyguards for the Gabonese government, he took on the challenge and applied. Soon after, in February 1984, he left his two-month-old child behind and set foot on foreign land. Unlike the U.S., where many taekwondo instructors had already settled, Gabon was a new country to most South Koreans at the time.
He was assigned to guard Ali-Ben Bongo Ondimba, the current president and son of former president Omar Bongo. Since then, Park has been by the younger Bongo's side during his studies in France and throughout his career as ministers of foreign affairs and defense and other top-level posts in the government.
"Gabon was the first among African countries to establish diplomatic ties with South Korea and it has continued to support our country on the global stage," Park said.
Park is currently trying to have taekwondo included in the physical education curriculum at local schools in Gabon. His dream is to further spread taekwondo among the Gabonese people and build a gym named after him.