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Buitrago claims world title in Taekwondo Schnettler returns with bronze medal
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer
For Ephrata High School senior Joshua Buitrago and his mentor Luis Mejia, the head instructor at Lititz’s Advantage Taekwondo, the dream started about two years ago.
In 2009 at the ITF World Championships in Argentina, Buitrago took fifth place and the seed was planted.
"When I went to Argentina, I saw all these world champions (and) everyone knew who they were," Buitrago said. "I dreamed to be just like them on top of that podium hearing their national anthem and there was nothing more in the world that I wanted at that time. I was going to do whatever it took to get there."
In early April, Buitrago did, in fact, get to the top of the podium. His hard work paid off when he captured the title in second-degree patterns at the ITF World Championships in New Zealand.
"I had a lot of confidence in Josh," Mejia said. "I knew he was going to do something really good. (But) this is like the Olympics and you’re going against the best people in the world. I always tell my students, ‘There’s always someone better than you.’ But Joshua prepared really good. He was training long hours."
Dakota Schnettler, an Ephrata sophomore who also works out with Mejia at Lititz’s Advantage Taekwondo, trained a lot of long hours too and he came home from his first trip to the World Championships with a bronze medal in specialty breaking.
"It was really awesome," said Schnettler, a first-degree black belt. "There’s no other feeling like it. I was speechless."
He competed against athletes from New Zealand, Spain and Argentina on his way to placing third.
"I handled (my nerves) pretty well," he said. "I felt a huge nervousness inside, but I didn’t let it show at all."
Mejia added, "We were super happy with Joshua because that happened first and after winning a gold medal, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. And then we got the news about Dakota getting third place …"
Buitrago now plans to take a step back from his Taekwondo career as he prepares to study information sciences and technology at Penn State University, while Schnettler is turning his sights toward the World Championships in Spain in 2013.
Seeing his mentor, Buitrago, win a title will certainly be a big motivator for Schnettler.
"(Joshua)’s a very big role model to me," said Schnettler, who, like Buitrago, has been training for nine years. "He helps me push harder when I train and he’s a very big role model."
Training hard became a lifestyle for Buitrago after returning from Argentina in 2009. Next up was the National competition in California in August, 2010, where both he and Schnettler won titles in sparring and forms.
"I went to every competition I could find and I really started training when I was getting ready for Nationals," Buitrago said. "Then after Nationals, that’s when the training for World Championships really kicked in."
In fact, Mejia said the Buitrago didn’t miss any competitions between 2009 and 2011.
"He was training around seven hours a day sometimes," Mejia remarked.
Finally, the time came for the World Championships in New Zealand. Buitrago acknowledged that his emotions were a mix of being nervous and tired from the non-stop training they did once arriving there. But he remained focused on the task at hand.
"You lose one time and you’re done. Everything you trained for is gone," Buitrago said. "When I got in (the center of the ring), my training just really kicked in. My body has done these patterns so many times that no matter what happened, it would just keep doing what I trained for. I did them countless hours and hours."
There were 16 different patterns that the competitors had to know, each consisting of at least 30 movements. They performed one pattern of their choice, and then the judges selected another one for them to complete.
Buitrago defeated competitors from Germany, Canada, New Zealand, Spain and Argentina to advance to the final round. There he faced a fellow U.S. countryman, Adrian Santana, and clinched the gold.
"I can’t really describe it," Buitrago said. "You feel like just leaping. You beat the best in the world and (after) all this time you put into it, you’re the greatest there is in the world. I just knew what those Olympians felt like — the guys that everyone watches on TV, that I’ve watched on TV — and I was finally one of those guys and my dream came true."
Thousands of miles away back in Lititz, Mejia and others at the Advantage Taekwondo school were ecstatic as they watched the action unfold via a live video feed.
"It was really exciting because it was, like, 80 friends cheering for him and screaming and jumping when he won," Mejia said. "It was just really impressive. They even have a video of me crying."
In his 22 years as an instructor, including two with Buitrago at the Ephrata Taekwondo Academy and then seven more after opening the Lititz school in 2004, this was the first world champion in Mejia’s career.
"That is the ultimate for an instructor," Mejia said. "Just to tell you how difficult that gold medal was, the United States took 50 or 60 competitors to New Zealand and only brought (home) two gold medals."
Although Buitrago plans to take a break from Taekwondo while focusing on his studies at PSU, he doesn’t expect it to be permanent.
"I know that I’ll come back to it — everyone comes back to it — because it’s just a part of me," Buitrago said. More TAEKWONDO, page B-4