MANATEE -- Seeing 13-year-old Logan Roberts do a roundhouse kick at Bibbins' Tae Kwon Do studio in Palmetto last week it's hard to believe that the Buffalo Creek Middle School student suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
But Logan's grandmother, Janice Martin, confirms that the young man launching kicks far above his own head is the same youth who, about a year ago, could hardly get out of bed due to inflammation in his wrist, back and other body joints.
The illness, commonly known as JIA, impacts roughly 50,000 children in the United States and creates inflammation in the joints leading to swelling and pain, Martin said.
While scientists are not sure exactly what causes JIA to appear in children typically six months to 16 -- Logan got his at age nine -- there is thought that it is an autoimmune disease.
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Logan was on a treatment regiment that is typical for a child with JIA, including medication, physical therapy and exercise, but it wasn't working very well, Martin said.
"We did physical therapy for two years and tried all kinds of medicine and nothing would work," Martin said last week of Logan, who lives in Ellenton with her and her husband, Robert, and her son, Billy, who is Logan's dad.
Another martial art studio sought for exercise produced mixed results, Martin said.
"I said to my husband out of frustration, 'What about tae kwon do?' " Martin said.
Martin had driven by Terry Bibbins' Tae Kwon Do studio at 1018 Eighth Ave. W., Palmetto and decided to go inside and meet Bibbins to see if he would consider taking in a young person with JIA.
What she found out, she said, is that Bibbins, who is a U.S. Army veteran of the Iraqi war, has a passion for helping people with disabilities of all kinds reach their potential. "I signed him up," Martin recalls.
After about a year of training, Logan's pain level has dropped dramatically, Martin said.
"It's the exercise," Martin said. "Master Bibbins works with him in so many different ways. It's the different movements he has them do. He keeps the studio warm so their muscles don't tear. He has them do so many stretches. A lot of it is just the stretching and manipulation of the joints."
When Martin took Logan to the doctor for a recent checkup, the medical staff was stunned, Martin said.
"They said, 'Is that Logan? He's so different,' " Martin recalled. "They found zero inflammation in his major joints."
Logan, now a blue belt, has
gone on to heroics in competition as well.
"Logan just won the overall grand champion trophy at the 'Kicks for Christ' tournament in Tampa," Martin said.
"Logan is just not the same kid he was and we owe Master Bibbins for that," Martin added. "Master Bibbins is kind of quiet. He doesn't like to take credit. He's single. His students are his kids."
Logan still has bad days, but they are not so bad or so common, his grandmother said.
"On a bad day, when Logan starts working out, soon he is up and moving and doing better," Martin said.
Logan, who first heard of martial arts when he was five from the TV show, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," agrees that the secret is in stretching.
"There really is no secret," Logan said before a recent tae kwon do session. "It's just that Master Bibbins has us stretch. Every time I get the chance, I stretch and it has always helped me."
Pulling and reaching, neck rotations, twisting one way and then the other and touching toes are some of the stretches that Logan finds most effective.
Logan, who now wants to one day open his own tae kwon do studio, also kicks 100 times a day out on the family's lanai.
The bad memories from when he first saw signs of his illness are gone.
"It was too painful to get up," Logan said. "I was stiff as a board. You can't get me out of bed at that point. It's like trying to wake up a lion in the morning."
Some of Logan's classmates at Bibbins' tae kwon do are also impressed with his mobility for a young man with arthritis.
"What's a big word for awesome?" student Joshua Thomas replied when asked to describe Logan's kicking. "Awesome!"
A Palmetto native
Bibbins is a Palmetto native. He graduated from Palmetto High School in 2000 and was a battalion commander in the school's Junior ROTC program. He is the oldest of four siblings.
"I went into the U.S. Army as a cannon crew member in field artillery," Bibbins said.
Bibbins was with the first wave of U.S. troops in March, 2003 who went to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He completed three tours of duty in Iraq.
"My foundation and my success comes from my parents, grandparents and the military," Bibbins said.
Bibbins opened his studio on Eighth Avenue West in Palmetto six years ago after starting his classes at the Palmetto Art Center. His studio now has 150 students, he said.
Bibbins' passion for tae kwon do was nurtured by the late Ken Ellis, who inspired many to delve into martial arts. Ellis, who had been an instructor at Manatee School of The Arts, was murdered several years ago.
"I met Master Ellis at Lincoln Middle School where he was my instructor," Bibbins said. "He welcomed me into his world of martial arts and I never looked back."
When Bibbins first saw Logan he felt strongly he could help him, Bibbins said.
"He was extremely stiff, like the Tin Man from 'The Wizard of Oz,' " Bibbins said. "He moved like a 60-year-old. The most important aspect of tae kwon do is flexibility. The way to achieve it is stretching.
"I have arthritis," Bibbins added. "I know blood flow is very important."
Out of every one hour class, Bibbins spends 20 minutes warming up his students, he said.
"We do groin stretches, hamstring stretches and many others," Bibbins said. "We try to hold each stretch for no less than 30 seconds. On a light training day we may do seven to 10 different stretches. On heavy days we do 20 to 25."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.