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Thursday, May 10, 2012
Updated: May 11, 11:11 AM ET
Diana Lopez gets her kicks from family

By Amanda Rykoff

Diana Lopez and her brothers
Diana Lopez followed her older siblings -- Steven, left, Jean and Mark -- into the taekwondo ring, she said, "so I wouldn't get left out."

If you're wondering where Olympian Diana Lopez gets her take-no-prisoners attitude in the taekwondo ring, look no further than her mother, Ondina.

"Growing up with three older brothers and being the youngest and the only girl, my mom always made me tough," Diana Lopez said in an interview in New York City to promote her participation in Procter & Gamble's "Thank you, Mom" initiative for the 2012 Olympics. "She's taught me over the years how to be a strong, independent woman, how to carry yourself in a positive way and anything that my brothers can do, I can do. That's what's helped me along the way with any situation that I've been in.

"She's always said to give it your best. And always finish what you start. You're never going to half-do anything. You're always going to give 100 percent and that will pay off in the long run."

Ondina Lopez's parenting philosophy comes from a lifetime of hard work and determination. She and her husband, Julio, emigrated from Nicaragua to the United States in 1972, arriving in New York City without any family or friends and not knowing how to speak English. When Julio, an architect, went to Houston to follow up on job prospects, Ondina stayed in New York City for seven months with their 5-year old son and a baby on the way.

Diana and Ondina Lopez
"I wish or I hope to be half the woman she is when I have my children," Lopez said of her mother, Ondina.

"Those stories show the character that she has," Diana Lopez said. "That's why I say I wish or I hope to be half the woman she is when I have my children."

Ondina eventually joined her husband in Houston, where the family still lives today. There, her oldest son, Jean, started taking taekwondo classes. It stuck.

Three of the Lopez children -- Steven, Mark and Diana -- are Olympians in taekwondo. The fourth, Jean, is their coach. Steven will represent the United States in his fourth Olympic games this summer (he won gold in 2000 and 2004 and bronze in 2008) and Diana will make her second consecutive appearance in the games after a bronze medal in 2008. Mark did not qualify this year (he won silver in Beijing) but will be traveling to London as Steven's training partner.

"I had three boys and even though I was crying inside, I needed to be strong," Ondina Lopez said during the New York City press event. "That's why I told [Diana], you need to be strong. You need to be soft when you need to be soft. You need to be strong in the sport that she does. It's a contact sport. I told her you need to be 100 percent stronger than anybody else."

Lopez has taken this advice to heart ever since she followed her brothers into the taekwondo "ring" in the family's Texas garage as a little girl.

"There's three of them and there's only one of me," Lopez said. "So I've had to learn everything they've done and do, so I wouldn't get left out."

The 28-year old still lives at home (yes, Ondina cooks and does her laundry) and is finishing her last semester at the University of Houston, where she is studying childhood education. Lopez knows she owes her success in large part to her mother's support.

"She's done everything for us," Lopez said. "If she had to go in the ring and fight for us, she would. She's always on top of us, always supportive."

As a representative of the "First Family of Taekwondo," Lopez will attempt to win a gold medal in London this summer not just for herself, but for her entire family.

"My parents sacrificed so much for all of us," Lopez said. "It makes me want to give back to them by being the best I can be. It's not an individual sport; it's a team effort for our family. I remember all they've done, and it gives me that extra kick in the butt to do my best.

"We are a family that sticks together. As I say, a family that kicks together sticks together."

For more information about "Thank you, Mom" and to share your own stories, visit www.facebook.com/thankyoumom