Santiago Herrera wants to compete in the Olympics one day.
He’s going to have to take down the world first.
And that only after first conquering a personal battle.
Herrera is 16 years old and trains in a high performance taekwondo class at Black Belt World in Maple Ridge.
His instructor is Michell Ge, a former national champion. Ivett Gonda, who competed at the Olympics in 2004 and 2008, is another instructor at the school, as is Shin Wook Lim, head coach with Taekwondo Canada.
Herrera has been training in taekwondo with Ge since he was seven years old and is now a second band black belt.
He is a five-time provincial champion, in the cadet (ages 12-14) and junior (15-17) divisions, and in May won the under-59-kilogram class at the junior nationals at the University of Calgary.
He had a bye in the first round at the nationals, then won four straight matches, including an 11-6 decision over the Ontario representative in the final, to qualify for the junior worlds, to be held in Burnaby this November.
Herrera was excited to make the world championships, but also relieved.
“All of my hard work paid off.”
Herrera first started high performance training – twice a day, six times a week – in Grade 8.
He competed nationally and internationally, but then got “burned out” – overwhelmed. His performance suffered.
He feels now, through experience and maturity, that he’s back on track, that he’s “recovered what I lost and got back on top.”
The training schedule remains challenging for Herrera. But he has a different mindset than before.
“I just have to take it day by day.”
Ge said Herrera is a super dedicated athlete who commits his time to his training. He is part of the EPIC program at Pinetree secondary in Coquitlam, which gives him the extra time to train in the afternoons.
He also goes to hot yoga on Monday and Friday mornings and swims Thursday before school.
Two months leading up to nationals, he met with Ge at the track on Saturday mornings to break his mental block.
“And by Week 5, we accomplished that goal,” she said. “That moment was when Santiago said. ‘It feels like I just won nationals.’”
Herrera is determined to do well at the worlds, which will feature about 800 athletes.
He hopes next to compete at the Pan America Games, which are held every two years and next in 2017.
His ultimate goal is the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.