Darin Prazer allowed the tears to come in Little Rock, Ark., last month. That was where he won gold in the American Taekwondo Association World Championships.
For the 31-year-old, the medal was the reward for more than a decade of setting goals and overcoming obstacles to reach them.
Prazer, who owns and operates ATA Martial Arts in Evans with his wife, Gena, was born in England. Before his first birthday, his mother and the man she thought was Prazer's father moved to Pensacola, Fla.
The supposed father, who was in the United States Air Force, abused Prazer and his twin sister and was sent to jail.
Prazer and his sister were raised on welfare by their mother, who bounced around Pensacola as she failed to hold jobs and consistently pay rent.
When he started high school he was 4 feet, 10 inches tall and weighed 70 pounds.
"I looked like a fifth-grader," he said. "Even when I first drove, I had to put a cushion on the seat to see over the steering wheel."
It was then he discovered martial arts.
Prazer learned under his first and only instructor, Tom Nichols. The classes gave him structure in his life and helped him in school.
"Something changed about me that made me less of a target," he said. "I think it's the way I carried myself and started talking because of the confidence I built in martial arts."
Nichols became more than an instructor to Prazer. He and his sister briefly lived with Nichols after his mother remarried.
The situation didn't last long. His mother got a divorce and wanted her children back. Prazer weighed his options and decided to move back in with his mother until he graduated high school, and then he would be free.
After graduation, Prazer decided to return to England to visit Ken Prazer, a man he thought was his stepfather, and his half brothers. He planned to visit just six months. He stayed four years.
Prazer loved the stability, and loved Ken. Everywhere they went, people noted the resemblance between them, and between Darin and his half brothers.
Prazer started to assume Ken was his father.
Eventually, Prazer decided to return to the U.S. and to martial arts competition. He moved back to Pensacola to compete. He met his future wife while both were judging a competition.
About the time of the couple's engagement, his mother started floating the idea of a paternity test, and Prazer agreed. The results confirmed Ken was his father.
"I think that he always in his heart knew," Gena said. "Even if the results came back that it wasn't, it didn't matter to him, because Ken Prazer stepped up emotionally as a father."
Darin and Gena changed their name to Prazer and left Pensacola for Evans to start their martial arts academy.
"Martial arts is about goal-setting," Gena said of her husband's journey. "And sometimes that goal is unreachable, so you just break it into small goals so that you can reach it. Goals that are worth it are going to take some time."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.