The numbers are impressive.
In less than five years, she has won more than 70 medals, including one gold and three silver medals at AAU Nationals, and she has won gold at the AAU Florida State Championships five years in a row.
Amazingly, this taekwondo dynamo is only 9-years old.
Jenascia “Jena” Liani Albareda Gainer, a blackbelt in Olympic sparring taekwondo, lives in Lakeland with her family. She travels at least four days a week to practice at the U.S. Tae Kwon Do Institute in the Four Corners area and practices sometimes nearly 15 hours per week — all toward her ultimate goal of making the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
“Coach (Anibal) Cruz offers Jena one-on-one (training) and knows how to train the individual according to their needs,” said Ana Albareda, Jena’s grandmother. “Plus, he has made us part of his family. Being part of a team is great but being part of a family is amazing.”
Much of the car time is spent doing homework, but that many hours traveling back-and-forth can be cumbersome. Still, the local youngster says it is worth it.
“Of course, it is worth it to spend all this time preparing,” Jena said. “We must commit and sacrifice to be the best of the best.”
The rising fourth grader at Cleveland Court Elementary School is unusually focused on her goal for someone her age.
“I feel happiness (when she she wins) — I feel excitement and accomplishment like no other feeling I have ever felt,” Jena said. “When I lose, I feel like I should practice more and never give up and keep going no matter how hard it gets. I try to see what I did wrong and fix it.”
Albareda and Jazzmin Hakem, Jena’s aunt, are responsible for getting her started in the sport when the family was living in South Florida.
After her ballet and dance teacher told the three-year old she fidgeted too often during class, Albareda removed her. Albareda said Jena had no problem learning in the classes but simply had too much energy. After walking by a taekwondo school one day, Albareda had the answer she was looking for. Jena started classes there and continued when the family moved to Kissimmee.
“The first few fights she cried and cried before competitions,” Albareda said. “The thought of losing made her so sad.”
In fact, the first silver she won, Jena refused to accept it. Since then, she hasn’t had to accept much less than gold medals. In addition to the AAU medals, she has earned medals and recognition at competitions hosted by the USTA, PanAM Games, Sunshine State gams and Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports.
She has worked with numerous coaches who have been instrumental in getting her to this point and those same coaches return the accolades. Coach Ryon Fredrick, Olympic TaeKwonDo Camp, coached her for two years in Kissimmee before she moved to Lakeland.
“The best competitors leave the arena with no regrets and with nothing left in their tanks,” Fredrick said. “That’s the kind of competitor Jena is.”
Jena sets goals for herself outside of the sport, too, and said she aspires to be a chemical engineer and work in a lab to help people.
“I love school and my favorite subjects are math and science,” she said.
For more information about Jena and to follow along with her journey, visit her Facebook page at facebook.com/JenasciaLianiAlbaredaGainer/.