Olympic tae kwon do finalist Donovan Rider of Mount Pleasant knew his calling at a young age.
"Watching 'Ninja Turtles' and martial arts movies, I wanted to do martial arts," said Rider, now 26. "At that time, tae kwon do was the only martial arts school in Orangeburg (where he was living at the time). I started doing tae kwon do because it was the only one available."
He started taking classes when he was 7. "I just loved going. I went every day."
He was watching the Olympic trials in 1996 when he was 11 and noticed tae kwon do, although it didn't become a full medal sport until 2000 in Sydney. "From there on, my goal was to make the Olympic team," he said. "That motivated me to train full time. I didn't want to do anything else."
He won first place in the 1997 junior national championships when he was 12.
When he was 17, he graduated a year early from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School to train with a coach in Greenville. The coach told him about an Army program that would pay him to train full time.
When he turned 18, he joined the Army and went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He received training as an architect and surveyor but was moved into the world-class athlete program. His full-time job was working out at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Rider, whose weight is listed as 155 pounds, worked his way up to become one of the 10 finalists for the 2012 Olympic team. Then while fighting at the training center last November, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee. He underwent surgery and began the slow process of rehabilitation.
He moved to Mount Pleasant in August to continue training at a lesser pace while he healed.
Rider got out of the Army in October as a sergeant. He hopes to be strong enough for the next round of Olympic competitions in January.
"I'm not sure about that," he said. "I'm kind of seeing how my body is feeling."
If not, he will have another chance in March, when the team will be narrowed down to two men and two women.
Meanwhile, Rider is teaching sport tae kwon do at the Mount Pleasant Recreation Center's Park West complex. He is teaching with longtime training partner Jonathan Fennell, who moved from Savannah last summer.
Fennell, 34, started tae kwon do when he was 16 or 17. He also was part of the world-class athlete program in Colorado Springs. He trained with Rider for the 2008 Olympics, took some time off, then returned to train for the 2012 Olympics.
He won a bronze medal in the tae kwon do world championship at the CISM Military World Games in Korea in 2006 and was a quarterfinalist in the games in Brazil last summer.
Rather than return to Colorado Springs, Fennell decided to retire from competition and focus on teaching. He continues to serve in the Army Reserve.
"We trained with the best and competed against the best," Fennell said.
For information on the classes, call 856-2196.