By Connor Beach
A Commack teenager took his passion for taekwondo to the national stage earlier this month.
PJ Katcher competed on July 3 in the 2018 USA Taekwondo Nationals in Salt Lake City, where he earned enough points to achieve the title of USAT All-American.
For Katcher, who graduated from Commack Middle School this spring, the trip to Nationals was the culmination of a long taekwondo season that began last September when Katcher won two silver medals at the East Coast Taekwondo Championship.
He went on to win an additional four gold, two silver and three bronze medals at state and regional taekwondo championships over the next eight months.
Katcher, 13, said he started taekwondo in kindergarten after, he said, my “parents made me do it.”
As Katcher’s skills progressed, he has attracted the attention of several nationally recognized coaches and instructors, including his head coach USA National Team Coach Grandmaster JW Suh. He is also coached by USA National Team member Master Christian Suh and Egyptian National Team member Youssef Aly. All three coach at East Northport-based High Performance Martial Arts.
Taekwondo competitions take Katcher up and down the East Coast and across the nation, something he said he enjoys about the sport.
“I enjoy the traveling for competitions,” Katcher said. “My favorite so far was the U.S. Open in Las Vegas.”
It takes toughness to excel in taekwondo, something Katcher has shown he has plenty of.
Toward the end of April, Katcher attended a sparring seminar led by three-time Olympian and Olympic coach Juan Moreno. Katcher broke his arm during the first day of the seminar, yet still returned to the seminar the next day.
Just over two month later, Katcher was fit enough to return to the ring for Nationals, during which he competed in the Cadet World Class Black Belt Division as a featherweight.
“There were a lot of great athletes competing so it was tough but exciting,” Katcher said. “It is very challenging at my level with the large number of competitors in my division.”
Katcher overcame the odds and was the only athlete from the East Coast region to receive All-American honors in the World Class Division.
Looking forward, Katcher said he plans to compete in the taekwondo Junior Division next year, and will continue to “take it one year at a time.”