Monday, February 23, 2009


Karate a passion for a Cooper City disabled man
In Dave Pancallo's karate class at the Cooper City Community Center, the sessions are not for the faint of heart.

To the outside world, Dave Pancallo, 34, of Cooper City may be just a man with Down Syndrome. But to the karate classes at Cooper City Community Center, Pancallo is "Mr. Dave." He has taken classes for about three years with the USA Goju Federation at the center, and helps lead workouts for the adults and children who take twice-weekly classes there. Here, Pancallo leads a training exercise.
Special to The Miami Herald
To the outside world, Dave Pancallo, 34, of Cooper City may be someone with Down syndrome and that's that. But Pancallo is filled with surprises.
To the people taking karate classes at the Cooper City Community Center, Pancallo is Mr. Dave -- the guy who helps lead workouts for the adults and children who take twice-weekly classes there.
Pancallo is a regular at the center's USA Goju Federation karate lessons. He offers no mercy and no apologies for his exercise regimen, leading karate students in a series of leg lifts, push-ups and jumping jacks that sometimes leave them gasping for air.
''You can take a break and go to the bathroom or get some water, whatever you want,'' Pancallo called out to the students after one particularly grueling session.
''How about a defibrillator?'' one student shot back -- only half in jest.
Karate teacher Christina Brownlow said she remembers when Pancallo first started coming around.
''He was in the adult class, but he would come early and observe,'' she said. ``One day, I asked him if he wanted to help.''
Pancallo has taken ownership of that request. He arrives early for the Monday and Wednesday sessions to set up chairs along the room's perimeter. He helps line up the younger kids and watches over the children, Brownlow said.
''He brings honor to this class,'' Brownlow said. ``You can trust what he says because he never lies and he always does his best.''
To the children, he is another class leader, Brownlow said. They make sure he is always recognized as an adult.
That's how Pancallo has lived his life, said sister Becky Hinson of Fort Lauderdale. ''He doesn't know anything's wrong with him,'' she said. ``He has always been treated so normally.''
Pancallo, who works five days a week as a dishwasher at Uncle Al's restaurant in Weston, has always been independent, Hinson said.
After being diagnosed with diabetes some years ago, he put himself on a daily exercise schedule that included jogging on a treadmill. It led to a 100-pound weight loss and the elimination of his diabetes medications.
''Now I'm much healthier,'' Pancallo said. ``I work out every day and control my eating.''
A brown belt in karate, Pancallo is working on his black belt.
''I do karate because I'd like to protect my family,'' he said. ``I'd like to teach a class one day.''
Karate is a good outlet for someone with disabilities, Brownlow said, because everyone is considered equal.
''In karate, no one is singled out as weaker or stronger,'' Brownlow said. ``You work only to achieve the highest level you can achieve.''

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