By Joel Hall
Two years ago, Riverdale High student, Jikeme Daniels, won a gold medal at the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) Youth World Championship in Zadar, Croatia.
He has won again.
At this year's championship in Naples, Italy, pitted against three of the best kickboxers in the world -- from among 1,500 competing -- Daniels powered his way to victory, by defeating opponents from Great Britain, Italy and Hungary for the 89 kg (195.8 pounds) division for boys, aged 16-18.
"I feel privileged and blessed to have gone over there," said Daniels. "When I was a green belt, and I was 10 years old, I never thought I'd be traveling all over the place.
"This time, I had way more pressure on me," Daniels said. "It was almost like I had to win. I had to just go through the process and go out there and do my best."
Daniels, a 16-year-old, who stands six-feet, one-inch tall, weighs over 200 pounds, and wears a size 13 shoe. He carried the flag for the 38-member American team competing in the Sept. 20-28 world event.
For the last 11 years, Daniels has studied karate and kickboxing with Tony Young, owner of Tony Young All-Star Karate Academy in Union City. First introduced to the sport as an elementary student, he said his mother, Gerry Daniels, continues to motivate him in the sport.
"I wanted him to do that because it's very disciplined," said his mother. "I liked it, but I didn't like him being hit, or punched. To make sure he was all right," said his mother, who works in the medical field, "I started being the medic at every tournament.
"As a mother, I was very nervous, but I knew that this was what he wanted to do," she said. "I started taking karate and kickboxing myself, so I could be of help to him. If he saw that I was doing it, he would be in there and stay more focused," she added.
At Riverdale High, principal Terry Young said Daniels is a model student. He is involved in basketball, soccer, football, Junior ROTC, and Gentlemen of Quality, an upperclassman-to-lowerclassman mentoring group.
"I think it makes the entire school proud to have him here," said Young. "He has a great personality, so that makes it that much better. He's a well-liked kid among the school, and that's among the staff and the students.
"He works hard in school, and I imagine that he works that hard in his sport," Young added. "That's why he's the world champion."
Tony Young, Daniels' trainer, said he saw greatness in Daniels from the time he was 5 years old. He said Daniels is the first youth competitor from his dojo (gym) to win a world championship.
"He's always been exceptional," said Young. "He has always had the concentration and discipline to be a world champion. He'd always be practicing, even when he didn't have to.
"It makes me feel proud knowing that the hard work he has put into it has paid off," said Young.
Daniels said he, one day, hopes to open his own kickboxing academy. He said the sport has given him the discipline and self control to make that dream, and many others, a reality.
"[Kickboxing] made me feel more confident, but it helped me gain more control of myself," said Daniels. "It makes you much more well-rounded."