Four local youths — Alexa Gervais, Caden Burgard and brothers Ricky Vargas Jr. and Gaige Vargas — displayed their taekwondo skills at the AAU Junior Olympics last month in Houston.
Gervais, 13, and Burgard, 11, brought home medals in their first time competing at the national tournament, which featured young athletes from across the country.
Burgard won the silver in free sparring, while Gervais claimed bronze in free sparring and form events.
“My experience there was very good. It was something I couldn’t learn in class,” said Burgard, a fifth-grader at St. Francis de Sales Catholic School in Houma. “I had a lot of fun. I like traveling to different tournaments, and I made some new friends,” said Gervais, an eighth-grader at Raceland Middle School.
The kids are trained by Houma Martial Arts owner Al Hebert, a taekwondo instructor since 1999. He has brought students to national tournaments since 2000. He said the discipline and competition provide valuable life experience that will make them better people as they mature.
“It gives them a lot of things that kids are missing right now: responsibility, respect for other people, sportsmanship, learning how to lose,” Hebert said. “It’s not just learning how to win, learning how to lose graciously and excepting that it just wasn’t your time to win, and you need to try harder next time.”