Karate master, dance instructor,
jewelry maker, mechanical engineer
When you think of a mechanical engineer’s hobbies, jewelry making, dance instruction and karate may not be the first things that come to mind. But for Eric Nelson, these are among his greatest passions.
Eric grew up in Park City, Utah, and got his start in karate at 16.
“In high school, I was looking for something to do. I tried a bunch of team sports and decided I wanted something individual-based where I had more control over the outcome,” Eric says.
Unlike most teenagers, Eric worked two jobs while going to school. He used the money to pay for his own karate lessons, car and phone.
“I tutored in the morning before school, and worked at Burt Brothers Tire after school. I was busy, but determined.”
Eric trains at Park City Karate, where he also helps develop athletes to compete in USA National Karate Federation-sanctioned competitions. The federation is the governing body for karate in the United States, and the board currently is making changes to competition rules and logistics to ease the transition to it becoming an Olympic sport.
At 25, Eric earned his first degree black belt. He currently trains and competes at the elite level, which is the top tier of competition, traveling the country from California to Florida. But he has hopes his passion for karate will take him even further.
“Karate will be new to the Olympics in 2020,” he says. “I want to make the team for the 2024 games.”
In order to make this dream a reality, competitors must place in the top six at a qualifying competition. Eric has come close, finishing in the top 10. He plans to continue training, focusing on “Kata,” which, as he explains, is “a memorized set of movements that demonstrate different karate concepts.”
While Eric enjoys karate as a hobby, his connection to the sport goes much deeper. When Eric came out to his family, they expressed concern that being gay would make him a target for violence and other discriminatory treatment. Karate gave Eric assurance and self-worth.
“I felt like I could protect myself,” he explains. “It gave me personal strength. Mentally, physically and emotionally, karate is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. If I could do that, I felt like I could do anything. Karate gave me the courage to be who I truly am.”
After graduating high school, Eric attended college at Cal Poly in San Louis Obispo, Calif. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering, then moved back to Utah and began his job search.
“From an engineering perspective, I wanted to work in an industry that provided a public service,” he says. “I wanted to do something in energy, because I knew it mattered.”
Eric accepted an offer from then-Questar Gas, and currently works for Dominion Energy Questar Pipeline as a corrosion engineer in the Integrity Management Department. “Eric is a great asset to our team,” says Doug Brunt, Eric’s supervisor. “He has always been willing to jump in to tackle challenging tasks. His efforts on leading our Corrosion Prevention Programs and Pipeline Risk Assessment have increased our pipeline safety and reliability. We are fortunate to have Eric.”
In addition to his work responsibilities, Eric is the chairman for Dominion Energy’s PRIDE employee resource group, or ERG. This ERG is open to all employees, and serves as a support system for the company’s LGBTQIA community. Eric hopes the group will have a positive impact on the company’s culture.
“I want to help employees feel comfortable being who they are,” he says. “I want them to feel like valued members of the company.”
Along with mastering karate, Eric has become a skilled dancer and jewelry maker.
“I’ve been dancing for eight years—mainly blues dancing,” he explains. “I started a club here in Salt Lake and also teach.”
Eric says dance and karate share much in common. “You use a lot of the same principles in dancing that you do in karate—movement, timing, and distancing are very important for each.”
Dancing is how Eric met his partner, Mengqi. The two have been married for a year and recently bought a home near downtown Salt Lake. Eric custom designed and made their wedding bands—sterling silver with a simple knot design.
“I learned how to make jewelry in high school. I have made a variety of different pieces: glass pendants, rings, broches and earrings.” Eric took second place in the Utah State Amateur Jewelry Competition in 2007. “I gave the pendant I won with to my mother for Mother’s Day.”
Eric is an example to all he meets that living authentically brings true happiness and fulfillment.
“I’m glad that I’m finally in a place where I can be completely myself,” he says. “At home, at work—in everything I do.”