In the blink of an eye, Brian Gallagher delivers a powerful, precise kick to the training bag.
The blow is brought with a primal scream and punctuated with a resounding whack!
Kicks like that have earned the 23-year-old Highlands Ranch resident a spot on the USA National Taekwondo team.
Kicks like that have also broken the ribs of the man who serves as his coach, training partner and father. That despite a protective sparring vest.
“That’s the power of taekwondo,” said Bob Gallagher, who, with his son, runs Eagle Spirit Academy out of the Littleton YMCA.
“Kick fast, kick last.” That was the message on the back of Brian Gallagher’s T-shirt during a recent morning training session.
He is training with a purpose. He will be kickin’ it in Copenhagen, Denmark, in October as he competes in the world championships. Winning a gold medal there is his No. 1 goal.
“It’s on my mind all day,” said Brian Gallagher, who competes in the bantamweight division. “It’s the most excited I’ve ever been. I envision how I’m going to fight, how I’ll carry the flag.”
The seeds of a taekwondo career that has taken him around the world were planted when he was just 3 years old. They came in the form of a “Teengage Mutant Ninja Turtle.”
“I was a big ‘Michelangelo’ fan,” Brian said.
While the animated martial artist sparked his interest, a very real person has always been at his side.
Bob Gallagher got his son involved in the discipline originally as a way to deal with potential bullying. He didn’t coach his son at first, but took over the duties after the family left Miami for Wyoming in 1994 and opened a taekwondo academy.
His coaching philosophy can be summed up like this: Empower, don’t enable.
“Brian has never been enabled, he’s been given choices,” said Bob Gallagher, a fifth-degree black belt who uses the same approach at his high-energy classes.
As young as 6, Brian was given the choice to rebound or give up after losing to another talented youngster. The combination of his opponent’s kicks and an exercise-induced asthma attack left him unable to finish the fight.
Later his father asked, “Do you want to quit or get ready for Fernando?”
Brian got ready. He beat Fernando in the rematch.
“I’ve kind of never looked back, as far as taking losses in stride and knowing I have someone who has my back,” he said.
Bob Gallagher was a big believer in using exercise to overcome his son’s asthma. Brian says he hasn’t had an attack since he was 10.
To this day, exercise is almost always on Brian’s calendar. Aside from his intense, six-day a week taekwondo workouts, he loves to play basketball, tennis, golf — you name it.
“One of my goals is to be a scratch golfer,” said Brian, who shoots in the mid-80s and beats his father on the links.
Taekwondo, however, has his immediate attention, specifically the world championships Oct. 9-19 in Denmark. The event is as big as it gets in the sport, and Brian’s resume suggests he could be primed for a gold-medal run.
In 2008, he came close to making the U.S. Olympic team, finishing as the bronze medalist in the qualifier. He has made the USA national team four times, three of which came while he was a student at the University of Wyoming. He also was a dominant competitor at the junior national team level.
As he prepares for Copenhagen, as with any match, one of the biggest challenges Brian faces doesn’t come from another man.
His “walking around” weight is about 150 pounds and he needs to be down to about 136 for a match.
“Training is fun,” he said. “Cutting weight is the toughest part.”
To that end, he focuses on eating many small, protein-rich meals throughout the day. He tries to cut weight gradually over several months rather than following a severe diet at the last minute. Seven weeks out, he weights about 144 pounds.
The training, the dieting, the getting up at 5 a.m. — they’re all part of the price paid for gold.
“The commitment and dedication it takes are sometimes not understood,” Bob Gallagher said, referring to the way others can view a training regimen like his son’s.
Brian has goals beyond the world championships. He has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Wyoming and is using that to help spread the word about the taekwondo academy. Like his father, he is involved in the teaching aspect of the school and has no plans to stray outside the family business.
“I get to do what I love every day,” he said. “I don’t know how long I’ll fight, but I’ll be teaching for the rest of my life.”