Frisco high school dropout finds success with kickboxing

By his own admission, Adam Howard was a “chubby” kid with curly hair who found that the structures of traditional education didn’t work for him.

Plano, Texas — Watch the full story on WFAA tonight at 10pm

One day last month, the Mayo Clinic called me.

A representative from the Alix School of Medicine thought I should meet someone in Plano.

It turns out that he is the inspirational force of nature a lot of should meet – although his story begins when he dropped out of 10th grade.

“By the way, I failed the ninth grade online — then I repeated it and passed it and dropped out,” Adam Howard told me on his last visit to Liberty High School in Frisco.

Howard, by his own admission, was a “chubby” kid with frizzy hair who found the structure of a traditional education didn’t suit him.

“My childhood was a disaster,” Howard said. “I don’t have any identity. I don’t have any self-worth.”

In Plano, however, he did find something he liked: a taekwondo studio run by Master Lee Eun-il.

“He was a little lost, and it sounded a lot like that,” Lee recalled the day they met more than a decade ago. “He’s a little fat, and his hair kinda looks like…” Lee said, putting his hands on his head.

It was in that studio, where Lee was his new father figure, that Howard’s life began to change.

“I was doing whatever I could. Helping with baseboards, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming floors, whatever needed to be done,” recalls Howard. “It’s not just two hours a week or a hobby. It’s a whole day, every day. I live, sleep, eat and breathe, and I dream of teaching. It’s been a motivator for my entire career.”

Because his entire career just got an unexpected resurrection.

He pursues his GED. He attended Collin College and then pursued a degree in neuroscience at the University of Texas at Dallas. Next up is a master’s degree from Brown University. However, he said his black belt in taekwondo made him want more.

“I want to know the physics behind these technologies,” he said. “I want to know about anatomy, and why our technologies are biodynamically constructed the way they are.”

If there’s a typical high school dropout, Howard certainly doesn’t sound like one anymore.

“Help them turn confusion into understanding so they can gain dignity, autonomy and competence,” he said of his experience with kickboxing and watching it provide other students with the same transformation. “It’s magic to me. I want to understand it better.”

So, next he found himself on his way to Minnesota: the Mayo Clinic, to be exact. He is on his way to medical school. He is graduating from the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine later this month. He recently learned that he will continue his residency at Duke University, his other dream school.

The ‘chubby’ high school dropout with a black belt in taekwondo will become a psychiatrist next month.

“So now it’s my dream. I tell the program director that I’m in a blissful coma,” he said of studying the next leg of his educational journey. “I just thank her for the opportunity she gave me, for seeing my worth, I don’t know if I saw myself.”

But what did Master Li see.

“Very, very happy. I’m very proud of him, what he’s doing,” Lee said. “I know he’s going to change and help make the world a better place in the next 60, 70.”

“Master Li was my father figure. He raised me into who I am,” Howard said, while thanking his own parents for their financial and emotional support. “It saved my life. It saved the lives of so many kids,” he said of the taekwondo studio.

That Saturday, at the Plano kickboxing studio, he brought two classmates from the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine. In his Minnesota basement, he trained them in kickboxing: giving them what kickboxing gave him.

“This kind of training took me from being an overweight 10th grade dropout to that state,” he said. “But it’s also nurture that enables them to reach their full human potential through teaching. That’s what it means to be a master.”

“That’s what kickboxing is for,” he said. “In my opinion, that’s what drugs are for.”

At the time of our interview, you could hear a toddler babbling in the background. Adam Howard is also a father now, and when he was growing up, there was a rather insistent story to tell little Adam.

“I realized that psychiatry is what we do in kickboxing,” he said. “That’s helping people understand themselves, helping them understand how to be the best version of themselves. That’s what I do in this world. It’s what I’ve been trained to do.”

“It’s really been a blessing. I couldn’t figure out a way to do it with my own ingenuity,” he said of all the help and support he’d received during his journey. “This is the good news.”

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