A Sarnia martial artist has struck gold south of the border.
Gary Cagumbay finished first in the 58-68 kilogram category at the Amateur Athletic Union taekwondo national championships that ended July 6 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The 21-year-old defeated Texan James Douglas 22-13 to win the blue-green belt title.
Cagumbay was one of six athletes representing Sarnia Olympic Taekwondo at the meet. He earned the trip to Florida by winning the Michigan State qualifiers in March, punching his ticket to his first national-level competition.
“I like going defensive instead of going in first,” explained Cagumbay, who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines a year ago.
“Why waste my energy… when I know I can counter the shot?”
Cagumbay took up taekwondo when at the age of 11 to combat bullies in his hometown of Manila.
“I’m always the smallest guy in the group,” the 5-foot-3 fighter said with a smile.
Soon he was competing at school taekwondo tournaments, which in the Philippines are as popular as football or soccer at Canadian schools, he said.
He moved to Canada in the spring of 2018 with his mother and discovered Sarnia Olympic’s East Street gym shortly after arriving.
“This guy definitely really loves taekwondo. That helps a lot,” said coach Mark Warburton.
Cagumbay often watches competition videos between training sessions, he said.
“I consider myself a complete taekwondo nerd and he watches even more taekwondo than I do.”
There are more meets ahead for Cagumbay and a Montreal training camp in September, said Warburton, who co-owns the 120-student gym that also offers personal training and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Cagumbay said he looks forward to his next competition, in part because of the new people he meets at tournaments.
“I made so many friends in taekwondo.”