Darin Prazer met his wife while they were judging a martial arts tournament. He proposed at another tournament seven months later.
Gena Prazer had a request for how the wedding should go.
"I said, 'When we get married, no karate uniforms at our wedding,'" said Gena, Darin's wife. "It is the one day I don't have to deal with karate."
For Gena and Darin, the subject of this past week's Athlete Spotlight, everything they've done together has centered on martial arts.
The couple started an academy in Evans, ATA Martial Arts, after downgrading to an apartment after their wedding and subsisting on ramen noodles and beanie weenies for more than a year. Before the wedding, they cut their tournament schedule to save up for the ceremony.
The couple's time together has been marked by sacrifices and goal-setting, something the discipline of martial arts helps them with.
Darin endured a broken childhood and an unstable living situation and stuck with martial arts even when it meant leaving the first semblance of structure he had felt in his life.
Darin was born in England and moved to Pensacola, Fla., before he was a year old with his mother and the man he thought was his father. Darin didn't find out until he was 27 that the man his mother left in England, Ken Prazer, was his father. The man was jailed after abusing Darin and his sister.
Constantly changing schools wore on Darin. He was forced out of his mother's home as a teen after she remarried, returned to finish high school and then fled to England.
That's where he formed a relationship with his biological father. The relationship was confirmed by a paternity test after Darin was married.
What stands out about Darin's story is how he has responded to his upbringing. He was taken from his real family, his childhood all but destroyed, and he was mistreated at times by key figures in his life.
But he has forgiven them. He maintains relationships with his once abusive stepfather and the mother that had told her 13-year-old son he needed to find another place to live.
"If someone's ruined your past, don't give them reason to ruin your future," Darin tells people.
He hasn't. He stuck with martial arts through high school, after returning from a four-year stint in England and after putting off competitions to save up for his marriage and his business.
He was crowned world champion in June and nailed the routine when he tested for his fifth-degree black belt.
His academy is thriving, driven by the family-oriented theme and commitment to courtesy. Everyone within the academy is referred to by their courtesy title.
Darin has told his story to groups of area youths. He also sent his story to motivational author Zig Ziglar in hopes it could be used in a book.
And he's translated his experiences into wisdom as he moves forward in his business, his competition and his marriage.
"It doesn't matter where you come from," Darin tells people. "It only matters where you're going."
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