Natalie Aguilar: Freshman Sets Sights on Olympics
When freshman Natalie Aguilar was ten, her father told her she could choose between spending her time playing his sport, soccer, or studying tae kwon do, she chose the latter. She says, “I thought soccer was kind of boring, lots of kids play it. I wanted to do something with individuality, since I kind of like the spotlight. I wanted to work hard, get attention and the also the discipline that comes with martial arts.”
Little did the kinesiology major know at that time, that her wish to be in the spotlight would result in top level competitions, taking her to statewide, national, and ultimately, international tournaments for the sport. And if all goes as planned, Aguilar may be competing in the next Olympics.
“Once I got my black belt, which took about two or three years, I started to compete and saw that I was winning a lot,” she recalls. “My coach said, ‘You have a lot of potential,’ so I just keep kept going. My first international competition was in El Salvador when I was only 15. I won a bronze medal, that was fun.”
Having traveled extensively at such a young age, Aguilar was prepared for beginning her college career in a multicultural setting like Dominguez Hills.
“It’s cool to see different cultures,” she notes, “you don’t get used to only the American way of doing things. You learn not to judge people. They have different backgrounds, everyone has a story behind them. Coming to Dominguez Hills is kind of the same as traveling and meeting different people, it’s very diverse here.”
Aguilar’s most recent experiences include winning the gold medal in the U.S.A. Tae Kwon Do National Championship last November, competing in the U.S. Open in Orlando, FL, where she placed third in the bantam weight category. She is going to Dallas, TX this month for the U.S. National team trials. If she places there, she will go to a final competition in Beijing, China, to determine her place on the U.S. Olympic tae kwon do team.
“Getting to the Olympics will be a long journey, but I think I’m ready for it,” says Aguilar. “My coach, Gergely Salim, is actually a gold medalist from the 1992 Olympics, so he has a lot of experience. He drives me, and tells me to push myself and work hard.”
The Santa Monica High School graduate also has role models in her parents. They immigrated from El Salvador and became American citizens in the wake of that country’s civil conflict of the 1980s. Aguilar’s mother, a housekeeper who only went to school up to the third grade, and her father, a mechanic who earned his high school diploma, have instilled the importance of education in their daughter and her younger brother.
“I’m the first generation to go to college, my parents are really excited about that,” Aguilar says. “They always tell me I’ve got to do well, and study hard.”
Aguilar, whose brother is also involved in tae kwon do, wants to run her own dojo (Japanese word for a martial arts school) and possibly go into sports medicine. She would encourage her peers to go to college first, regardless of sports or any other talents that may lead to a career.
“I know that getting started in college is only going to help me in the future,” she says. “In my family, education always came first. That’s why I’m in college, because my parents don’t want me to end up like they did – working and not going to school.”
“I encourage my friends to stay focused, go to college and get that done,” she says, “but have fun with their sports as well. It’s hard to do both tae kwon do and school. They are two different careers, but they often end up complimenting each other.”
The discipline that Aguilar has gained from her martial arts training helps her with her academic challenges as well.
“Just like in tae kwon do, if your mind starts to wander, you have to bring yourself back and focus on what you’re doing,” she says. “It takes discipline to actually do the homework, since a lot of teachers don’t ask for it. You have to make the right decisions, no drinking, and no drugs. I think that tae kwon do has kept me away from all that, so it’s been pretty helpful, and keeps me focused on school and my family.”
When she isn’t practicing or studying – which is rare – Aguilar enjoys exploring her artistic side, and enjoys inventing new fonts and styles of writing.
“I like to draw, I’m always doodling,” she says. “Sleeping is pretty good too.”
Although Aguilar’s father, an avid soccer player, may have been disappointed when she first turned down his offer to support her pursuit of soccer, he is proud of her achievements.
“My dad tells his friends about what I’ve done, and tries to recruit his friends’ kids into tae kwon do, because he sees the good that can come out of it,” she says. “I hardly ever see him, because I’m always at school or practicing, but I always see him at the end of the day and tell him good night.”
- Joanie Harmon-Whetmore