Next week, 14-year-olds Carly Crawford and Taylor Wood will be living their dream in Mexico. This dream is not filled with lying on the beach or frolicking in the sun.

Carly of Mount Pleasant and Taylor of Summerville are competing in the Junior Pan-American Karate Championship in Cancun.

The pair competed in the USA Team Trials in July in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where only the top two winners qualify to compete with Team USA at the yearly championship.

Taylor was awarded gold and Carly silver in the 14- to 15-year-old black-belt division at the trials, qualifying them for the competition Aug. 27-Sept. 1 in Mexico.

“It’s like you carry a weight on your shoulders when you don’t win,” Taylor said about not placing in the finals her past three attempts.

Carly is also no stranger to the trials with two attempts under her belt. While both have won numerous national titles, nothing compares to being part of Team USA, they said.

When they were done training 50 hours Monday-Friday, they were involved on weekends working with their support team to raise money for the trip to Mexico. Team USA does not pay trip costs for junior competitors, only adults.

All of their hard work and community support allowed them to meet their fundraising goal.

Their sensei, Jim Buchen, a world, national and Team USA champion himself, said they will form a booster club at their dojo, Buchen Martial Arts, to help with future fundraising. He also wants to award scholarships for students who cannot afford to train with them.

Both Carly and Taylor were drawn to karate at after-school programs. Carly’s mother was a teacher at her school, East Cooper Montessori, so she had to stay with her after school.

She chose an after-school program in karate at age 6 because it seemed fun, she said.

Taylor played other sports, but chose an after-school program for karate at James Island Christian School at age 7 to try something new. The girls met five years ago when they both joined the dojo and have been training partners ever since.

“It’s almost like they’re sisters during the summer. They train together, sweat together and play together,” said Buchen.

Buchen adapts many of the skills he learned at the U.S. Olympic Training Center to the girls’ training. Not only does he have them train physically, but mentally as well.

Both Carly and Taylor said they read motivational materials on strategy throughout the day when preparing for a match.

Carly said that mental preparation is key because “when you believe in yourself, it shows.”

According to Buchen, there are many benefits to getting youths involved in karate. As with most sports, karate teaches discipline that he hopes translates to other areas of his students’ lives.

All of the black belts at his studio, including Carly and Taylor, are “A” students.

Taylor said tournaments motivate her to continue with the sport despite rigorous training.

“It’s something to look forward to. You train for something and your hard work pays off,” she said.

Buchen likes for his students to go easy on training the week before a competition. He said he “wants them to peak at the right time.”

Training will start again Monday when they arrive in Mexico and will last about two hours each day. The competitions start Wednesday.

Both Carly and Taylor are competing in the kumite, or fighting competitions, which are controlled and semi-contact. The matches consist of three-minute rounds against another athlete.

They will be scored on the different techniques used, all with varying point values. Each competitor will compete in five to six matches.

Although Carly and Taylor are only 14, they offer advice for others who aspire to compete in karate.

“Have faith and trust in the people teaching you. They can help you adapt to different situations. You also have to have faith in yourself. Confidence pays off,” Carly said.

“Mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation. You can have all the technical skills, but you won’t do well if your mind isn’t there,” Taylor added.

If both girls advance far enough, they will have to compete against each other, which is something they are used to doing.

Carly said that competing against each other makes things both harder and easier because they know each other’s fighting styles.

When asked what they aspire to be in the future, both Carly and Taylor admitted that right now, karate is their life. The United States Karate Federation is petitioning for the 2020 Olympics, and they are looking forward to another dream.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560.