Merrill teen sets crosshairs on national stage
In the wake of four and a half years of martial arts competition and hundreds of hours training and conditioning; the next opponent to dare line up across from Cutler Nowak will be at next week’s AAU (Amateur Athlete Union) Tae Kwon Do National Championship Tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Son of Corey and Jenell Nowak of Merrill, the soon-to-be MHS-junior began his Tae Kwon Do career at age nine.
Following a short break, Nowak returned to the mat in 2014 and has had his shoulder to the wheel ever since.
“It’s something I’ve always enjoyed,” Nowak said.
“I’m always pushing myself to get better. My two goals are to make it to nationals and to earn my black belt.”
While the Florida trip is just under a week away, Nowak isn’t far from his second goal either.
Currently a red belt, Nowak worked his way through eight skill grades and four colors of the sport’s 14-grade, six-color belt system. His current grade is mid-advanced and stands just two grades away from the coveted and revered black belt; but as Cutler and his parents agree, the road to get to this point was anything but short or easy.
“We have been traveling and competing in tournaments since he first started,” Cutler’s father Corey explains.
“Last February, we started started looking at the possibility of nationals as a goal, but it didn’t work out. So last August, Cutler decided it was something he really wanted to do, it was an important goal for him. So we really hit the tournaments hard. Competing in tournaments and training at his home gym of Rising Son MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) in Wausau, are really the only way for him to get better and prepare for nationals.”
The next stop was the City American Cup Tournament in Hammond, Indiana on August 29 of last year, in which Nowak placed 2nd in sparring. From there the Nowak family has made their rounds to virtually every tournament in the midwest for which Cutler has been eligible for, including stops in Elgin, Illinois, Rochester, Minn., and multiple trips to Detroit, Michigan over the last year.
On his last visit to Detroit, competing in the (black belt-only) Eric Rose Memorial Tournament on May 21, Cutler enjoyed the highlight of his career thus far; taking down an opponent holding a 2nd Degree black belt (3 skill grades above his current red belt grade).
“It was a pretty intense match,” Corey said.
“Cutler was down 10-8 in the final 30 seconds. Then he just started landing strikes and outscored his opponent 12-11 to take the match and place 3rd in the entire event.”
“I was pretty nervous,” Cutler adds.
“He looked bigger than me but it was a great feeling when I realized I had beat him. It was kind of a rush.”
Following a 2nd place finish at the AAU State Tournament in West Bend and qualifying for nationals, Cutler has upped the ante for his training regimen from 3 hours per week to 3 hours per day.
In addition to training at home and locally with Master Lah Thao of Rising Son; Cutler has received a great deal of additional training and experience thanks to the help and expertise of master John Splawski of N.E.W Sport Tae Kwon Do in Green Bay, ‘One Team Wisconsin’ and Master Chris Hershberger of Team Nex Gen in Mansfield, OH.
“We are very grateful for everything they have done for Cutler,” adds Jenell, Cutler’s mother.
“Master Splawski recommended Cutler for Team NexGen this past spring. We went down to Mansfield for a weekend so Cutler could train with and basically tryout for the team. Master Hershberger liked what he saw and selected Cutler to join. He is very selective about who he picks for the team so that was a pretty big honor. Master Thao has been there for Cutler from the start, he wouldn’t be where he is today without their help”
The Nowaks depart for Fort Lauderdale Sunday with the start of the tournament set for weigh-in’s Monday morning. Nearly 2,000 competitors will be in attendance over the five day, single-elimination event.
When asked of his thoughts of the trek to Fort Lauderdale, Cutler just smiles and shrugs a bit.
“I’m just focused on getting better. If I don’t advance this year, I’ll just pick up where I left off and try to make it back next year.”