MANSFIELD — January was a busy month for Chris Hershberger and February promises to be even more hectic.
Not only did Hershberger’s new training facility, Black Belt Pro Fitness, officially open its doors with a ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this week, but the longtime martial arts instructor is preparing several members of his NexGen Taekwondo team for the U.S. Open Taekwondo Championships in Las Vegas later this month.
“Setting the trajectory — that is declaring and managing the weight division an athlete carries through an entire year — makes coaching in our sport very tedious. We have to become expert planners, taking growth, injuries, travel resources and schooling into consideration,” Hershberger said.
“Add in managing the process of building a world-class facility in three months, and it’s what I call a healthy challenge," he said.
And by all accounts, Hershberger’s new facility at 1099 W. Fourth St. is world-class. The 6,500 square foot building features a padded training area, as well as heavy bags and free weights.
There is a guest lounge with a two-way mirror so parents can watch their children train without distracting them, and a state-of-the-art camera system so training sessions can be live-streamed.
“We are doing a remote training program and we’re the only ones who are going to be doing it at this level,” Hershberger said. “Kids who aren’t going to be in the gym can stream from anywhere in the world.”
Training young athletes has been Hershberger’s passion for more than 25 years. He put together his first team in 1993.
“It’s had some different iterations as far as names are concerned. NexGen Taekwondo is our biggest and most accomplished team,” he said. “We are basically the Midwest’s strong team. In this sport, California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois are huge (Taekwondo) state and they have big teams.
“We are one of the top teams in the entire country. It’s a huge deal because we are a small team," Hershberger said.
The NexGen team boasts 32 members from six states and 22 will compete in the U.S. Open Taekwondo Championships in Las Vegas from Feb. 27 to March 3, including Hershberger’s daughter, Natalie, who is ranked first in the nation in her age division and weight class.
The younger Hershberger is one of six top-ranked NexGen athletes. The team produced 10 national champions last year.
“It’s really starting to grow and it’s because of success. Kids want to train with those who are winning,” Chris Hershberger said. “Iron sharpens iron and that is really the recipe for our team right now.”
The endgame, Hershberger said, is to produce Olympic champions.
“Our goal for anyone who steps into our facility or joins our team is to make the U.S. National team. That is No. 1,” he said. “No. 2, they want to be Olympians. This is an elite training team and these kids are trying to take it as far as they can in our sport.”