Remembering Harry Loupakis: A Tribute to a Greek-American Legend

By: Markos Papadatos

Greek dramatist Menander once said “whom the gods love, die young.” The Greek-American community mourns the loss of an extraordinary man—a gifted gymnast, acrobat, martial artist, teacher, friend and caring individual—the incomparable Harry Loupakis. The eldest son of Tony Loupakis, a world renowned Greco-Roman wrestler, gymnast and Tae Kwon Do grandmaster, Harry passed away on September 26th 2009 due to a tragic incident in Chania, Crete. He was only 44 years old. Harry is survived by his father, Tony, four siblings, Peter, Costas, Aspasia and Afrodite Loupakis and his beloved aunt, Effie Loupakis.

What Harry Loupakis was able to accomplish in his short life was truly astonishing! He won a remarkable 15 gold medals at the national level, in addition to countless tournament wins in state and local competitions. Harry, along with his father, Tony, and younger brother, Peter, starred in two films entitled “Athens, New York: To Megalo Kolpo” and “H Megali Tou Karate Scholi.” In Tae Kwon Do, Harry was a United States Champion who

won the All American Open for several consecutive years in a row. He was a 6th degree black belt and held the title of “Master of Tae Kwon Do.” He was an individual who exemplified the five tenets of the martial art the best: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and an indomitable spirit. Most striking about Harry’s Tae Kwon Do ability was that he was able to break three blocks of wood with his bare thumb. The secret to most of his successes was that he pursued athletics from a very young age, 2.5 years old, and devoted his time, effort, heart and soul to the sports that he loved.

Along with his family, Harry performed in many popular European circuses and distinguished venues across the United States and in Greece. He helped his family's academy, the Loupakis Tae Kwon Do School of Martial Arts, win first place in the Gymnastics World Championships in Las Vegas from 2003 to 2009. Harry's gymnastics routine inspired awe in his spectators: Harry excelled on the pommel horse, rings, horizontal bar, floor exercise, and was able to perform three back flips in the air prior to landing. Furthermore, Harry was able to perform a headstand on a ball and balance on the ball with no hands. Most remarkably, Harry could also balance his head on a champagne bottle while simultaneously spinning on it, leaving his audience spellbound. Each live performance of his was like watching the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, and he was the Gymnastics equivalent of Michael Phelps. His personal best in the men’s all-around competition was a stunning 9.9; a difficult milestone for any Olympic-caliber gymnast to achieve. Harry's talents knew no limits. In addition to his athletic career, Harry was a gifted actor, painter, singer and dancer. He was able to accomplish anything he set his mind to. Blessed with charming good looks, he was someone any girl would be happy to bring home to her parents and a true gentleman every guy would be lucky to have as their best friend.

Harry's greatest accomplishment was serving as a role model and mentor to his students who looked up to him in return. Harry was an irreplaceable asset in the lives of the Greek-American youth who were fortunate enough to train with him and he was able to pass on his love and passion for athletics and humanity to the next generations. With his exceptional work ethic, patience, motivation, and dedication, he was able to push his students to their limits and the results were golden. Many of his students went on to win state and local competitions in Tae Kwon Do, Acrobatics and Gymnastics, as well as to excel in their academic and personal lives. Had it not been for his exquisite guidance, leadership and perspicacity, his students would most certainly not be the prolific men and women they are today.

On a personal note, Harry was as one of the finest, strongest, humble, genuine and kind-hearted human beings one could ever meet in their lives. In our society, many people are jaded and so involved in their own hectic lives that they fail to take notice of how their friends and acquaintances are doing. Harry was just the opposite. He always took the time and effort to get in touch with people, saw how they were doing, lent his ear and helping hand to their issues, and provided them with many useful tips and suggestions. He always demonstrated a good sense of humor and quick wit. His vibrant personality was contagious; the more you knew about him, the more you wanted to get to know about him. There is so much more one could say about Harry's attributes and unique qualities, yet it is difficult to put them into words.

Similar to the lyrics of a Martina McBride tune “I Just Call You Mine,” Harry was a person that “everyone who saw him, always wanted to know him,” and “everyone who knew him, always had a smile; he was a standing ovation after years of waiting for a chance to finally shine... everyone called him amazing!” Harry's accomplishments and life story are an inspiration to all of us. He was the ultimate paradigm of someone who found the means to go beyond the ordinary, and he expanded and redefined the goals and expectations of martial arts and athletics. Harry was the epitome of class, grace, excellence, willpower, eloquence and responsibility. He brought out the best in people. His legacy is the influence he leaves behind for his students, and the love that binds us all. Harry Loupakis truly was “the cat's pajamas!”

Professor Catherine Tsounis of St. John's University is “shocked and very saddened for the loss of Harry Loupakis in the prime of his life. This is a terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to the Loupakis family and his close friends during this difficult time.”

(Posting date 2 December 2009)

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