When he tells his story, Luisito Pie speaks in plural. When he talks about his career path in taekwondo, he mentions the pride “we feel” or how “we have prepared.” It is evident that even though he enters the combat area by himself, a country and its people eager for the match to end with another victory accompany him. That is because Luisito has accustomed his country to winning.
A wall in his mother´s home is decorated with all the medals that he and his four brothers, all of them taekwondo competitors, have accumulated. Among this collection, are those medals Luisito won in over a dozen international fights; fights where this young man of humble origins elevated the name of the Dominican Republic.
Judging by the success in his sports career, it is hard to believe that Luisito represented the country for the first time in San Luis Potosí, Mexico in 2013. His achievements resemble those of an athlete who has been in the circuit for a long time. But this 22-year-old apparent rookie is no stranger to the pressure of facing competitors with greater experience and renown internationally. When talking about that open competition, his first trip abroad, Luisito clearly remembers each moment. “When you arrive on a stage such as this for the first time, you observe and admire everything. That is why I keep these images in my mind, competitors and stage alike. I can’t erase that,” Pie says thinking back to that moment when he was overtaken by fear of losing the opportunity and the wish to do his best. “I entered my first fight with all the possible energy. I wanted to win. I wanted time to fly by, but with the score in my favor.” And that’s what happened Luisito won the gold and brought home his first international medal. That same year he won the silver medal in the Bolivarian Games held in Trujillo, Peru.
In 2014, he won 4 gold medals. The first one in the Santo Domingo Open, qualifying for the Central American and Caribbean Games. a second medal in the Pan American Olympic Festival in Puebla, México, a third in the Pan American Championships in Aguascalientes, Mexico and a fourth one in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Veracruz, Mexico.
Only two years later, Luisito championed in a much greater stage when he won the silver medal in the Pan American Games in Toronto 2015. And the following summer, he achieved his greatest professional victory up to now: the bronze medal in Taekwondo in the Rio 2016 Olympics, becoming the only Dominican medalist of the Games.
For a little boy, of Haitian descent, born and raised in Bayaguana, Monte Plata, which he calls “a real Dominican countryside,” dreaming of an Olympic medal was an act of boldness, maybe his first act of sports heroism.
That great dream became possible, because Luisito is the product of a home where love and faith were never scarce, thanks in large part to the dedication of his mother Marisol Pie. But his family suffered great financial stress. There were days in which he and his brothers did not know what they would eat. They would go to school without eating breakfast and without knowing if they would find lunch back home. Pie helped as he could, working as a shoeshine boy, washing cars or helping his stepfather, Euclides Reyes who worked as a mechanic and raised him, after his biological father abandoned his family when Luisito was only a child. Nowadays, Luisito says that one of his greatest prides, asides from sports, is that his family is in a better financial situation today, and that he has contributed to this improvement.
For Luisito that is the most important thing. Olmo Rencil, a childhood friend and training partner, remembers that ever since Luisito was a child, he was very attached to his family and that “upon entering the discipline he was very positive about evolving in it.” This was because Luisito saw the chance to help his loved ones through his sports talent. “Seeing the place I was born and raised in, the lack of everything, I had to try to leave this place so I could help my family.”
That, Pie says, is a desire shared by many others who have lived in his situation. “I would say that this is what drives every young Dominican who struggles in their neighborhood, their countryside, where there are greater limitations. This was the driving force that took me where I am now, that made me dream of a better future.”
Driven to succeed, Luisito started practicing track and field, until well-known coach Héctor Ramírez convinced him he could find great opportunities in Taekwondo. There, Luisito showed that he was made of the material of champions. “There are many athletes in this sport, that may have the conditions and talent, but that isn’t enough,” says Gabriel Mercedes, Luisito’s hometown native and Taekwondo silver medal winner in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. “You have to have discipline; you need to have that fire inside to move ahead… and that is what Luisito has.” The young man showed that fire and discipline when he defeated Mercedes, one of his idols, winning a spot for the Central and Caribbean Games in Veracruz 2014, where he won the gold.
His great dedication and fortitude are what make Luisito capable of achieving his day-to-day demands, which include five hours of training, classes in the National Evangelical University, where he is majoring in Physical Education, and a strict diet that keeps him in the 58kg weight division. When he finds the time, Luisito makes small escapades with his friends to the movies to watch the latest action film or Dominican movie. “As soon as one comes out, we are there to watch it,” Pie says.
Inside or outside the tatami, Luisito always attracts attention. He tells us that it is sometimes difficult for him to finish a meal in a restaurant, because fans interrupt him to take pictures or shake his hand. But Luisito learned to handle his fame the same way he learned to master his sport: by practicing. “Maybe I felt a little uncomfortable in the beginning because this wasn’t something normal in my life,” he says, “but now I see it as something normal and I feel happy when someone approaches me to bless me or congratulate me, it is a beautiful thing. So, it is worth it, because these people supported us, and were aware of our results and endured the moment, so it is worth sharing with them, giving them my utmost attention.” It has been a long road for this little boy who spent his afternoons riding a bike or picking mangoes.
“YOU HAVE TO HAVE DISCIPLINE, YOU NEED TO HAVE
THAT FIRE INSIDE TO MOVE AHEAD… AND THAT IS WHAT LUISITO HAS””
Perhaps this little boy never dreamed that he would become a national hero, but this is precisely what many consider him to be nowadays. When he won the Olympic medal, everyone rushed to praise him and join in the celebration.
Serving as a good example to future athletes is a responsibility that Luisito understands well. When he began practicing the sport, he saw in the champions from Bayaguana who preceded him, the role models he would follow. He now hopes to leave his legacy to the youngsters as inspiration. He wants them to know that if he could make it, even under such difficult circumstances, they too can make it. This is what he wants to offer all those “who are now struggling to reach their dreams and to have a better future.”
But that does not mean that Luisito can only be considered “an example.” He is a fighter to be feared, who will not put his guard down, despite his achievements. For now, he continues to faithfully fulfill his training routine with his mind set on his next fight and to stay in shape to compete for a second Olympic medal in Tokyo 2020. He is not ready to speak about his legacy, because as he says with a smile: “We are not finished yet. This is only the beginning.”