There could be a 2020 Olympian training in Grand Haven — or two, or three, or four, or maybe even more.
It might be the area’s best-kept secret.
Lakeshore Taekwondo Academy, located at 1045 Columbus Ave., is the training home of four young athletes who are currently part of the sport’s Olympic pipeline.
Matthew Schmidt, Kyra Powers, Lexi Fritz and Claire Freimark all have been, or are currently ranked, in the top three in the U.S. in their respective age and weight divisions.
That’s what it takes to be a part of owner and coach Brad DeMinck’s Elite Team.
DeMinck, who has been involved in the sport since he was 15, is one of just 52 Level 2 coaches in the U.S.
“Our job in essence is to find these kids, the diamond in the rough or the kids who would never have a chance, to shine them up and hand them off to the national coaches,” DeMinck said. “West Michigan boasts some tremendous athletes and talent. We’ve got some phenomenal kids here.”
Schmidt, Powers and Freimark have all spent time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.; while Fritz, who just reached the minimum age requirement, is heading there this summer.
The Elite Team, minus Freimark — who is currently nursing a leg injury — will continue to attempt to thrive in international competition when it heads to Las Vegas this weekend for the U.S. Open, the fourth-largest taekwondo competition in the world.
All four members lost in the quarterfinals last year, and the trio attending this year’s version is seeking to improve on those results.
Being part of Team USA one day is the goal for Elite Teamers, but the travel costs across the country and world to get the training and competition necessary to reach that goal make it an expensive one.
DeMinck said that travel costs alone to this weekend’s U.S. Open will approach $1,000 per athlete.
That’s why several parents have gotten together to form a fundraising committee.
“Now that they're at a higher level, we're traveling a lot more,” said Sheila Schmidt, Matthew’s mom. “It's getting expensive to be able to get them the level of training they need to be at this high level. Our kids want to keep growing, to get better and better, and the future goal is to get on the U.S. team.”
And DeMinck wants that to be a goal for even more athletes. The coach said that he has around 10 fighters who might have what it takes to move up to the Elite Team, but he doesn’t know if they will be able to afford the opportunity to prove themselves on a national level due to all of the expenses.
"We're trying to avoid at the higher level, this just being a rich man's sport,” DeMinck said. “We want it available to anybody. Some of the best athletes I've encountered came from nothing.
“We need to find those funds to be able to help those athletes do events like nationals, national championships, Junior Olympics, international opens, Pan American Games — it's very expensive. To have that support is very, very helpful.”
A fish fry will be held at the Grand Haven Eagles, 20 N. Second St., with all tips going toward the program. Dinner will be served from 5-8 p.m.
Those who would like to further help with costs the athletes encounter can send a check the Lakeshore Taekwondo Academy Sport Team, 1045 Columbus Ave., Grand Haven. They say contributions are tax-deductible.
For more information, e-mail Brad Fritz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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