For the better part of three years, a small group of athletes from Guam have been steadily working toward the goal of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics slated for next summer in Tokyo.
Backed by a strong and loyal support squad, these wrestlers have spent months training and honing their craft. Some trained under world-class trainers and spent months in recognized facilities – all for the opportunity to represent Guam in Tokyo 2020.
Over the course of the next week, Team Guam's hard work will come to a head at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
"With this being the first Olympic qualifying event for Tokyo 2020, we've been working toward this competition and the goal to represent Guam since the last Olympic cycle in 2016," said Ethan Aguigui, who will be competing in the 65-kilogram Men's Freestyle later this week.
Aguigui, along with Michael Shinohara, Mia Aquino and Kaela Aquino, will be representing Guam in Kazakhstan, hoping to earn a berth into the Olympics.
Shinohara was the first up for Guam, competing in the 87kg Greco-Roman division against Korea.
Shinohara lost in the first round, admitting to a case of nerves on the big stage.
"I was shell-shocked," he said, commenting on his inexperience at that level. "First-time jitters."
But Shinohara gets another shot on Saturday, where he will compete in the 86kg Freestyle. And he expects to be better prepared for that match.
Sisters Mia and Kaela Aquino, both of whom were standout athletes in high school, will be competing today in their respective weight classes. The duo spent time in Japan with world-class trainers prior to the competition.
Aguigui said that aside from a shot at the Olympics, the world championships represent the pinnacle of the sport and every country sends their best wrestlers to ensure their best shot at a victory.
But the vibe and competition so far has been amazing, said Aguigui, an 11-year veteran of the sport who was training in Blacksburg, Virginia, with Southeast Regional Training Center staff and athletes at Virginia Tech.
"The host country, Kazakhstan, has been nothing short of hospitable. The fellow athletes have been cordial as well," he said. "The crowds and spectators have been energetic and engaged, really making the competition environment lively. It's really everything how an event of this caliber should be."
For Aguigui, he has several goals but keeps the pride and representation of the island and his family at the forefront of his training.
"First and foremost is to represent Guam, my family and my team to the best of my ability, on and off the mat," he said.
Making history and becoming the island's first Olympic medalist is also high on the priority list.
Getting to Kazakhstan was no small feat for Guam, Aguigui said.
"Team Guam would like to thank the Guam National Olympic Committee and the Guam Amateur Wrestling Federation for their support; GAWF President Tony Aquino and Guam National Team coach Mariano Aquino for their unbridled tutelage," he said. "Also the Japanese Wrestling Federation for (giving the female athletes) the opportunity of world-class training in Japan leading up to the event."
Personally, Aguigui wanted to thank his coaches, coaching staff and training parters at Virginia Tech/SERTC for their world-class training. He also wanted to thank his family, friends and training partners back home and in Blacksburg for all their positive messages.
He added an additional thank you to his parents and sister for their unconditional support.