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Lebanon's Aguirre, the 'Future of Taekwondo,' prepares for Junior Olympics and beyond

Joshua Aguirre, 9, of Lebanon, will compete in three different categories in the U.S. Taekwondo Junior Olympics, held in Houston from July 28 to August 7.

LEBANON, Pa. — Every four years, the Olympic Games offer a time when athletic dreams realized become inspiration for younger boys and girls. For one young boy in South Central Pennsylvania, watching the action in Tokyo is only fueling his drive to compete.

Joshua Aguirre will have to wait though. He's only nine years old.

Even so, the soon-to-be third grader is focused, with sights set squarely on the 2028 Olympics to be held in Los Angeles. He'll be 16 then. 

"Well sir, right now, I have 145 gold medals," he said. 

Joshua started Taekwondo when he was four-years-old. His coaches, including David Gladwell, say it didn't take long to realize he was at a level well beyond his age group.

"He had the type of skill that takes a few years of training, and he was picking it up within weeks," Gladwell, who is master at Family Karate in Lebanon said. "[Joshua] shows the tenants of Taekwondo, and that's to be strong inside and show confidence, but be mild outside which is being humble."

As peers struggled to compete during the COVID-19 lockdowns, Joshua only improved. Instead of practicing in the studios, he moved to the home studio his parents built in the attic of his home, where he says he practices five times a week for one to two hours a day. 

The annual tournaments which Joshua routinely won became virtual tournaments, where competitors are judged on form. True to his form, Joshua won most of them.

Now, as the country continues to reopen, so are the in-person Taekwondo events. Joshua hopes he can pick up where he left off. On August 4, he'll leave for Houston, Texas, site of the 2021 AAU Taekwondo Junior Olympics. He'll compete in three categories which will judge his form, creativity, and ability to use weapons. 

Last year, in the virtual national tournament, Aguirre won four gold medals and a bronze. 

"I have three feelings," Joshua said. "Confidence, excitement, and happiness."

His coach, David Gladwell, added, "[The question is] not when he goes to the competition, it's 'Is he going to win? Is he going to win gold?'"

Joshua's goal is to win three gold medals at the Junior Olympics. He says he doesn't get tired of winning, but there's no question there's a different gold he wants: Olympic Gold. 

"Anyone who knows Josh knows he is the future," Gladwell said. "He is the future of Taekwondo."

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