No matter your sport of choice, becoming a world-class athlete is usually a goal that takes years to attain. These athletes spend hours each day mastering their craft.
For Lakeside High School senior Nathan Key, the process has been in fast forward.
Nine months ago, looking for a way to stay in shape for football, Key stumbled across kickboxing. He was interested in the sport, so when his father, Gregg, saw a commercial for Gruebel's Mixed Martial Arts, the two decided to give kickboxing a try.
Within a few weeks, it was obvious to Mark Greubel, the owner of Greubel's and a former World Champion himself, that Nathan was special. He not only had the perfect build for the sport, but he also had God-given talent for it.
Key looked so good that it became apparent he could compete at major tournaments. However, that meant devoting his full time to kickboxing and giving up football.
The decision was difficult, but Key chose the ring over the gridiron. What has taken place since has been amazing. Not even a kickboxing expert such as Greubel could have foreseen the rise in the sport that Key has enjoyed.
With just a couple of fights under his belt, Key went to Iowa for the U.S. Championships, and, lo and behold, he came away with the title. Also, when he returned home from Iowa, he got a call from Ronnie Copeland of the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations, inviting him to represent the United States in the World Championships in Croatia.
All this from a kid who was just looking for a way to stay in shape for football.
On Sept. 25, Nathan, his dad, his mom (Amy), sister (Hope) and Greubel boarded a plane heading to Croatia for the World Championships, the first time the United States had taken a team to the event.
In countries such as Russia, kickboxing is taken very seriously. Team Russia's kickboxers are professional athletes. They go to school half the day and train the other half. Also, unlike the U.S., where aspiring kickboxers have a hard time finding fights, Russians often fight every week. So to say expectations were low for the U.S. might have been an understatement. The event was being used more as a measuring stick for the U.S. fighters than anything else.
After Nathan tore through his first two fights at 155 pounds, he found himself fighting for a world title in just his eighth fight. In his semifinal match-up he beat a Russian fighter who had more than 70 fights under his belt.
In the finals, Key ran into another Russian fighter with a great deal of experience, one who had dominated his opponents throughout the tournament. However, he had his hands full with Key.
After a controversial decision, Key suffered his first loss and had to settle for the Silver Medal. Not bad for a teenager whose first fight was only a few months ago.
Despite a pair of U.S. Titles (WAKO and International Kickboxing Federation) and a No. 2 world ranking, he has no intentions of letting up. First, he plans to defend his U.S. title, then he could make the jump to the adult divisions. He seems prepared to pursue kickboxing and see how far it can take him. If the past months are any indication, he has a long, long journey ahead.
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