Zoo Knoxville ranger, self-defense instructor earns WATE 6 On Your Side Hero Award

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A martial arts instructor living in San Diego, California, competed all over the world. His military background helped him with the discipline this tough training requires, but when he found out his mother in Knoxville was diagnosed with cancer, he dropped everything and moved home to help.

He has still found a way to help others by using his skills in self defense. That’s why Todd Pittenger is our newest WATE 6 On Your Side Hero.

By day, Pittenger helps take care of Zoo Knoxville as an assistant chief ranger. However, every Monday evening, you’ll find him indoors on zoo grounds, teaching a three-hour self defense class which is open to all of his co-workers. It’s an intense life-saving course but also a life-changing one.

Nominate a WATE 6 On Your Side Hero

“It makes me feel a lot safer,” says Amanda Winegar, lead ranger at the zoo. “I live downtown. I walk around a lot. I like to make sure I can handle myself in any situation.”

Roz Gorzeman has worked at the zoo for fifteen years. She had polio as a child, and never thought she could develop such strength until Todd came along.

“I’m older, ” she said. “I’ve got a handicap. Somebody might think I’m an easy target. I’ve got to be able to fight back.”

What also sets Pittenger apart is he doesn’t charge for the classes. He says what everyone gets out of it is payment enough.

Every Monday evening, you'll find Todd Pettinger indoors on zoo grounds, teaching a three-hour self defense class which is open to all of his co-workers.
Every Monday evening, you’ll find Todd Pettinger indoors on zoo grounds, teaching a three-hour self defense class which is open to all of his co-workers.

“Any time you can get together which a group of people and transfer knowledge, everybody grows from that. It’s just that opportunity to grow with everybody and see change over time,” he says.

Chris Kesterson has known Pittenger for 20 years, and helps him with the weekly classes. He says he nominated him for our WATE 6 On Your Side Hero award because of his humility and kindness.

“I think he just does so much for the community and he cares so much about everybody he deals with,” Kesterson explains.

Until two years ago, Pittenger was a martial arts champion working in San Diego. When his mother here in East Tennessee was diagnosed with cancer, Todd immediately moved back to take care of her. Each day is long, but he makes the most of it by giving back.

Congratulations, Todd Pittenger, for earning our WATE 6 On Your Side Hero award, by consistently going above and beyond to help others.

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