Being invited to take part in the Team USA Trials is one of the biggest honors for a martial artist. Regis Lima Martial Arts Studio had two students — D.J. Johnson and Candace Croshier — receive that honor, but because of an injury, only D.J. Johnson will be able to attend the event this September.
Johnson, who overcame a severe shoulder injury, plans to take advantage of the opportunity. Taking the trip along with Master Regis Lima, Johnson earned the invite thanks to a bronze medal finish at the 2008 National AAU Championships in July in Madison, Wis.
"It was all so exciting and fun," Johnson said. "To go from breaking my shoulder to winning a medal at Nationals was more than I could have imagined."
A first-degree black belt, Johnson was on whirlwind road to success last year before breaking his right shoulder. Two years ago, he medaled twice as a member of the Junior Olympic squad, taking home a silver medal as an individual in sparring, and contributed to a bronze medal in sparring in the team competition. He won that medal along with teammates and fellow Lima students Starlite Connolly and Liz Marcano.
All of that seemed like it could be fleeting last June. The injury pushed him out of training for six long months.
Once he came back, the whole experience was different.
"I was always afraid about hurting my shoulder again," Johnson said. "I really had to fight through it, and it paid off."
Johnson has been training under Lima for eight years and received his black belt when he was 12. He will be getting tested for his second-degree black belt later this year. Now 14, Johnson already has some major competitions and awards on his résumé.
"The truth is that D.J. is very easy to coach because he's so smart for his age," Lima said. "He works hard every time he comes into class, and I am sure he also does a lot of training at home."
Much of his success can be attributed to his dedication and passion for tae kwon do. He never lets up when he's on the mat of Lima's Spring Hill school, attending classes up to six times a week. His passion emerged very early with the help of his entire family.
Donald and Nathan, his father and brother, both competed in tae kwon do. Nathan still competes, winning a gold medal in sparring at Nationals, and Donald helps Lima with the coaching duties.
The sport has turned into a family affair for the Johnsons. The entire clan made the trip to Wisconsin this summer to support their sons.
"At one point, every single one of us was taking tae kwon do," Kimberly Johnson, D.J.'s mother, said. "We all can't do that anymore, but D.J. is a real natural at it."
The Team USA Trials will be in Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 5-7. Only the top four finishers at the National AAU Championships qualify for the event, setting up a double-elimination bracket for the sole spot on Team USA. Johnson will face four other competitors, including the current member of the team.
"I'm just excited to be going," Johnson said, "but if I were able to get through the bracket, it would be a dream come true."
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