In quarantined Venezuela, karate champion takes training to living room


CARACAS (Reuters) – Accustomed to working out among Venezuela’s best youth karate athletes, 16-year-old Ricardo Perez now trains between four barstools and two black leather couches – in his living room. 

The four-time Venezuelan youth karate champion was upset when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of international tournaments in El Salvador, Bolivia and Mexico that he had been preparing for. 

But his family quickly turned the home into a full-time karate gym, or “dojo”, rearranging furniture to leave a tatami mat in the center of their living space where he works out and also leads classes via Zoom for children and other youth athletes. 

On other days, with Venezuela under lockdown since mid-March, he trains on the roof of his building, with imposing views of the valley of Caracas.

“We have to have faith that all of this will come to an end,” said Perez after leading an online class. “We have to take the time to give classes to kids so that they’ll feel different … so that the quarantine will be a little easier.”

The hardest part is not being able to spend time with his trainers and other athletes he has grown close to, said Perez, a member of Venezuela’s national karate team who has won gold medals in South American and Pan-American tournaments.

Leading online classes usually starts with several minutes of struggling with Venezuela’s patchy internet, and often requires working around Zoom’s 40-minute cut-off for online meetings.

In a session on Thursday night, he counted out exercises in Japanese, his white uniform snapping crisply with each punch.

“How do you feel, good?” he asked during a water break. “Hydration is super important.”

His mother Solange, 46, father Ricardo, 48, and sister Alejandra, 10, take advantage of the setup to do their own workouts to YouTube exercise videos. 

“It’s what he’s passionate about, it’s what he loves, so for him it’s easy to do this,” said Solange.

“As parents we have to support him.”

Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne