78-year-old cancer survivor earns black belt in Taekwondo

This veteran is proving that age is just a number.
Updated: Jun. 17, 2021 at 9:11 AM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - A South Mississippi man is proving that age is just a number when it comes to being physically fit and achieving health goals.

Tom Gustafson is a 78-year-old veteran. In addition to beating cancer, the Gulfport man has survived many other extensive medical procedures.

“I had cancer surgery in 2016. I have heart work. I have 11 stints and I am also diabetic,” he said.

Wanting to stay healthy, Gustafson decided a few years ago to pick up some martial arts classes.

“My surgeon told me the only way to get rid of it - the problem - is to be active,” said Gustafson. “Both of my grandkids - actually all of my grandkids - went through Taekwondo. So it encouraged me to go that way.”

Tom Gustafson kisses his wife after she presented him with the black belt he earned.
Tom Gustafson kisses his wife after she presented him with the black belt he earned.(WLOX)

On Wednesday night, Gustafson reached a goal he has been working the last three years to achieve. The 78-year-old was presented with a black belt in Taekwondo. His wife and partner for over 50 years actually tied the belt around his waist.

“I feel privileged because of my age and health condition,” he said. “I feel like I have accomplished something.”

The moment was a reminder that we can overcome almost anything with the right mindset.

“It reinforces to everyone here that despite his hurdles with cancer and the heart attack, you can achieve a black belt just through hard training and perseverance,” said Joe Calhoun, who owns Tiger Rock Martial Arts. “He is quite the inspiration to all of us.”

It took a lot of hard work and dedication, but Gustafson said the moment was worth it. He now hopes his story inspires others to become more active.

“I encourage, especially elder people who sit down and hug the couch and watch tv, get active,” he said.

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