At the Regis Lima Martial Arts Academy, the staff teaches everyone from toddlers to senior citizens the intricacies of tae kwon do. Master Regis Lima, head of the academy, believes in not only the competitive aspects of the art but the life lessons it teaches.
This month, though, the focus was on the competitive side as Lima took a large contingent of his students to the Florida Tae-Kwon-Do Qualifier in Orlando. Twenty-four students made it through with medals. This same group qualified for the upcoming AAU National Tae-Kwon-Do Championships in Madison, Wis.
The national competition, in July, has become a staple event for Lima and his students. Last year, when the tournament was in Fort Lauderdale, six members of Lima's class earned medals at the event, including a gold for Bill Erdman in sparring and forms.
This season, the school was able to qualify 10 more students than last season's 14. Lima credits much of the improvement to the expansion of his academy. The opening of a Spring Hill location has added convenience for some athletes and an ability to expand financially.
"I have a lot of students who live closer to the Spring Hill location and were driving down to Port Richey every week," Lima said. "It's a winning situation now for me, the parents and the athletes. It's a real family environment."
Youth participants make up a strong part of his classes, and 18 of those students were a part of the latest group to stamp their tickets for nationals. Among the excited young martial arts students is Ashleigh Ruby, a student of tae kwon do since she was 6.
Ashleigh, now 12, is one of eight returning national qualifiers for Lima's team. She took home a gold medal in form and a silver in sparring at this month's state qualifier, but in her three trips to nationals she has come home empty handed in the medal column, something that motivates her every day.
"When you go to nationals, they take the best from all over the country," she said. "You really have to show that you have elite skills to do well there."
Ashleigh and her father, Paul, attend martial arts classes five days a week. A native of Lake Geneva, Wis., an hour and a half outside Madison, Ashleigh is excited about the opportunity to finally break through for a national medal in front of friends and family on the big stage.
"Hopefully, since it's my home state, I can finally do it there," she said. "It would be a real treat to go there and show I have the ability."
Lima, a 34-year-old native of Brazil, moved to Florida in 1999 with only $500 and a bag of clothes to his name. After taking a local job as a martial arts instructor, he was urged by local parents to open his own school. That dream has grown into the academy that stands out today.
With eight medals at nationals in 2007, the Regis Lima Martial Arts Academy was the second-best finisher of all Florida schools.
More than 2,000 students from around the country will be on hand in July, and Lima is hoping to build on the total he and his school amassed last year.
"It's just so rewarding to see what these kids can do," Lima said. "There is no amount of money in the world that can make up for that feeling."
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