Olivia Palombo, 19, is a sophomore journalism student at LMU who is remarkably involved on campus. Not only does she work at the Loyolan as a staff writer and video journalist, but Palombo is also a campus minister and member of the LMU Spirit Squad, the Isang Bansa Filipino cultural club, and the sorority Alpha Phi. Plus, on top of her on-campus extracurriculars, she is a fourth-degree black belt and a 23-time World Champion in taekwondo.
Palombo started participating in taekwondo as a 5-year-old at a local studio near her childhood home in Poway, a city about 25 miles northeast of San Diego. For her, taking up taekwondo was the result of a lucky win and a horrific loss.
“There was a raffle in one of my classes, and my mom won a basket with a voucher for two free weeks of taekwondo,” Palombo explained. Soon after, a 17-year-old Poway teen named Chelsea King was murdered while on an afternoon run around nearby Lake Hodges. This hometown tragedy compelled Palombo’s parents to teach her self-defense and used the voucher on her to take taekwondo lessons.
Palombo competes primarily for ATA (American Taekwondo Association) Martial Arts. ATA taekwondo has its own style, called Songham taekwondo. She also competed in WT (World Taekwondo) competitions.
“I started competing when I was 7 as a camo belt, which was so funny. I had no idea what I was doing,” Palombo says. “I saw a picture recently from that competition — I was so small.” When she began going to regionals, Palombo says, “I started placing pretty well naturally, and I liked the idea of competition, so my parents sent me to more tournaments.”
In Palombo’s first national competition, she excelled and decided it was time to move studios. “Eventually, my instructor told me that there wasn’t any more instruction he could give me at that higher level of competition,” said Palombo.
She moved to Church’s Martial Arts, where she began competing at the national, district, and world championships. At her new studio, she received her black belt at just 10 years old, which actually was a bit older than most of her peers there. “I know people that got their black belt at like 7 or 8 because they started when they were 3 — it’s a highly competitive sport,” said Palombo.
Palombo’s first world competition was in 2012. In that competition, she ranked number nine in the forms division and number 10 in the weapons division, taking home a silver medal. She competed in the World Taekwondo Championships for 10 years and is a 23-time World Champion.
Although Palombo is taking the year off from competition to focus on school, her love for the art of taekwondo has not withered.
“I think one of the main reasons why I love taekwondo so much is definitely the community it’s brought me,” she said. And these days she’s helping to create a community for others, teaching three students who’ve won titles at both the national and world levels.
“That has been super rewarding, getting to teach them, because I’ve been so fortunate to benefit from amazing role models and instructors,” she said.
Palombo has always had an interest in acting. During the 2020 lockdown, she took acting classes and began taking auditioning more seriously. Palombo’s most recent achievement was modeling for Nike in their “Gear Up” fall 2022 campaign. “Nike had launched their new set of clothes for the fall 2022 season, and I was modeling the new cheer clothes they listed,” said Palombo.
In this campaign, Palombo was featured on a billboard in Downtown LA, as well as appearing in the brand’s commercial.
“It just does not feel real in the slightest. It still feels like a fever dream to me. I’ve always wanted to be in the entertainment industry, and getting to see that through has been crazy to me,” said Palombo.
Palombo says she enjoys her busy schedule. “Managing my extracurriculars is definitely difficult, but it’s a skill I’ve had to learn and maintain throughout my young life so it’s something I’m used to and actually enjoy.”