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St. Petersburg boy wins taekwondo gold

Mark Parker



Curren Shuler, 9, of St. Petersburg, recently won gold at the Pan American Taekwondo Union's games in Colombia. Photos provided.

Curren Shuler, 9, will go down in history as the Pan American Taekwondo Union’s (PATU) first youth champion after beating his counterparts from 54 countries.

The Midtown Academy Elementary School student represented St. Petersburg, the state and the nation in the Oct. 12-14 Pan American tournament in Sogamoso-Boyaca, Columbia, after winning the President’s Cup in Jacksonville. Curren beat three other black belts in his age group to qualify for the Pan Am as a wild card.

He then went on to win the much larger contest. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially recognizes the PATU, and Curren’s father, Brandon Shuler, said the new youth tournament is similar to the adult Pan Am Games.

“I mean, this is one step below the Olympics for the little guys,” he said.

Despite joining the international tournament as a wild card, Curren (left) beat representatives from 54 countries.

Curren began practicing taekwondo at 5 years old and typically trains six days for about 22 hours each week at the U.S. Best Taekwondo Center in Largo, under Master Dennis White. Anastasija Zolotic, a local teenager who became the first American woman to win Olympic gold for taekwondo in Tokyo last year, also trained at the facility.

Despite calling performing in front of such a large group of people nerve-wracking, Curren said he felt like he would win after waking up and feeling energized on the day of the medal rounds. He now hopes to follow in Zolotic’s footsteps.

“It’s my dream to be an Olympian,” said Curren. “And to be a Navy Seal.”

Excellence in taekwondo is a family affair, as big sister Imogen Shuler, 11, has won six national titles. However, their father noted this was the first international tournament for the siblings, and watching officials adorn his son with the U.S. flag while receiving his gold medal carried extra meaning.

Imogen Shuler, 11, is a national champion.

The elder Shuler relayed that no other Americans made it to the medal rounds. He became emotional when describing how it felt to see Curren take the podium surrounded by flags from other countries.

Imogen expressed her disappointment in not taking home a medal in her division, but said watching her little brother win made it a little better. The John Hopkins Middle School student and under-11 national champ relayed her happiness that the people she loves the most share an affinity for her favorite activity.

Imogen said she taught her younger brother everything he knows, “and then some,” and also hopes to make it to the Olympics one day. Despite falling short of her goal at the Pan American tournament, Imogen said she is taking it as a lesson.

“Losing is a winning experience,” she said. “Because you’ll learn more from your losses and not from your wins.”

White, 55, said he began teaching taekwondo at 16 and opened his center in 1999. He said his passion is helping kids achieve things they never thought were possible, and said nobody walks in the door expecting to become an Olympian.

The kids want to learn and have fun, said White, who slowly introduces them to the sport and competitive events.

“And, before you know it, they’re going to international competitions and winning,” he added. “My goal is to train them to be the best that they can be, and most children don’t realize what they’re capable of.”

Imogen (left) and Curren (right) train at U.S. Best Taekwondo Center in Largo under Master Dennis White. Photo by Mark Parker.

Shuler called White a lifesaver for Curren, who previously struggled with some personal issues. Just a year ago, explained Shuler, his son would become easily frustrated and often retreat to a corner and cry if someone said something he perceived as mean.

Curren’s teachers, Shuler added, have also noticed his rapid transformation and increased confidence. White called the change remarkable and said Curren’s case is exceptional because he witnessed what his dad described almost every night during those early training days.

“He’s overcome so much,” said White. “It’s been pretty awesome to see.”


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A post shared by Curren Shuler (@curren_shuler)



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