HAMMOND | Now comes the tricky part.
"That's what made last year's national championships so great for us," Humberto Prado said of the USA Taekwondo's annual event held at McCormick Place in Chicago last summer.
"We didn't have to travel and stay in a hotel," said Prado, owner and head instructor at CTI-School of Martial Arts in Hammond. "So it wasn't expensive for us to compete in it."
For this year's USAT National Championships, the school has fielded and qualified four students after an impressive showing at the USAT Illinois State Championships, which was held March 8 — also at the McCormick Place.
"It costs a lot to hold it there," Prado said of North America's largest convention center.
"I don't think (the Illinois USTA) made any money holding it there, but it was such a great venue that they were willing to pay the price," said Prado, who served as public relations director at the event.
As for his students, all earned medals — three of them gold.
Aidan Prado, Humberto's 6-year-old son, won his first state sparring title in the 6-7-year-old orange belt division.
Nicholas Martinez, of Hammond, took first in sparring in the 7-8 green belt division.
Jasmine Valdez, of Hammond, took first in sparring in the 12-14 women's black belt division.
And Angel Cardenas, of Lansing, earned a bronze in the 10-11 black belt division.
At last year's nationals, Valdez and Cardenas earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, as red belts.
"I was nervous last year," Cardenas said of his first national tourney. "I'll probably will be nervous again, but not as much."
For Valdez, last year's national championship bout was a rematch against an opponent who had earlier defeated her for the state title.
"Her opponent got the lead and was able to run out the clock," Prado said of the rematch. "It's a strategy we've used ourselves, but when used on you, there's not much you can do."
For Valdez and Cardenas, their placement at the state tournament qualified them for the nationals.
"If you're a black belt, you've got to qualify for the nationals," Prado said. "Other colored belts don't need to qualify, but if Jasmine and Angel didn't make it, I doubt if we would have gone down with just two."
This year's USAT Nationals will be held July 1-7 in San Jose, Calif.
"The challenge now is raising enough money to get down there," Prado said. "We've already starting fundraising, but we've got a way to go."