Kelvin: “When you like your work all is simple”
In BOP faces we talk to local legends: the people of Punta Cana that make this place so special. In this edition: Taekwondo Master Kelvin Cuello of Punta Cana Fitness Academy on starting over in Punta Cana and his motivation for teaching kids.
“People told me to leave Punta Cana and come back to Santo Domingo. This was the first year I moved here. I did not listen, because I had a dream and believed that I would achieve it.” Kelvin Cuello (35), recalls the time he moved to Punta Cana in 2013. He leans forward and takes a sip of his natural lemon juice. It is something that matches his fit lifestyle.
Punta Cana Fitness Academy
With his Punta Cana Fitness Academy, he provides classes of Kickboxing, Taekwondo, T-Rex and Pilates, but also personal training. Being a master in Taekwondo himself, he makes sure to give the right examples to his pupils. Now his Academy has 65 kids, 16 adults who do group training and 8 adults that he does personal training for. He also gives classes at the Cap Cana heritage school. But this was not the case when Kelvin started in Punta Cana.
Kelvin is all about discipline. Growing up in Santo Domingo he started practicing Taekwondo from the age of 4. Coming from a family with 8 member that have black belts, Kelvin was inspired to practice martial arts. His uncle Milton Perez, a Master in Taekwondo trained him. At the age of 17, Kelvin received his very own black belt.
“Through Taekwondo I learned a new lifestyle. Discipline, being an honest person, controlling your emotions, personal defense and being in a good shape. Not only physically, but also on the inside, mentally. After I got my blackbelt I started competing professionally. This meant that all the way through high school and university I was always very focused. Of course, I went out with my friends, but I did not drink any alcohol.”
The years that followed Kelvin went to school, worked as a Supervisor and engineer at a textile company in the coloring department. All this time he also gave martial arts classes to children at the school of his uncle. But while working as an engineer at a car company, opportunity came knocking. “My sister and brother-in-law who live in Punta Cana told me that there were opportunities for me here. There was only one school that gave Taekwondo at the time. So, I came down from Santo Domingo every weekend to check. I noticed that the quality of life was better. You only get an opportunity like this once in a lifetime. It was always my dream to open my own school!”
“When I started nobody knew me. I had to start from scratch. Although I had help from my sister (co-owner) and brother in-law, I had to work hard to build my place up. The space that I turned into a gym had nothing.”
“It was a difficult first year. Two weeks after I arrived in Punta Cana my older sister in Italy died of cancer. Because I invested all my savings in starting my Punta Cana Fitness Academy I could not go to Italy. It was hard. 3 days before she died I spoke to her on the phone. She told me she was very proud of me and was happy for me. After she passed I received a personal not from her with encouraging words. This kept me going. I knew I could do it for my sister.”
“I also had to build up my business, this meant giving free classes in the beginning and working nonstop without any assistant teachers. That is when people said I should move back to Santo Domingo. Advice I did not follow, because I believe in putting steps forwards not backwards.”
All the hard work paid off. Kelvin started making a name for himself in Punta Cana. Word of mouth had people talking about him, resulting into what his Punta Cana Fitness academy is today.
“Even though it was hard, I remember the feeling I had when I gave my first class in my own school in Punta Cana. I came home sat on my couch and thought I did this!”
“My most loyal Taekwondo students are the kids I teach. 7 of them have been training consistently with me for 5 years. They are very motivated. For me it is inspiring to teach them what I know and give them opportunities I did not have when I grew up. For example, participating in competitions abroad. In my time it was difficult with getting visas. Now it is something I can do for them. We travelled to Puerto Rico, Aruba, Orlando Florida and this year we are going to New York. We won a lot of prizes. One of my students’ who is 6 years old won the medal for best athlete in Aruba. I also won best coach. And we won so much more prizes.”
Kevin proudly shows a video of one of his 10 year old students. It is a girl with a red belt vigourisly doing her flying kicks and jumping in the air. “She is so motivated!” He scrolls down his camera roll in his phone to show all the trips he and his little students did abroad. Competitions, but also trips to Universal studios in Orlando, sightseeing in Aruba and discovering Puerto Rico. “We always include excursions during our trips. But in the morning we always wake up to train,” Kevin says.
“Whether they win a prize or not, they are champions for participating. It is a big thing to compete in a large stadium in another country in front of so many people you don’t know. Sometimes they cry from excitement.”
Did Kelvin ever us his Taekwondo in a tensed situation? “I am very controlled and peaceful. Taekwondo teaches you to talk first with authority and never be violent. That is the philosophy. Only one time. I was 24 and out with my friends when a group of 20 guys started harassing our female friends. We asked them to stop. One guy broke a bottle to attack us. What they did not know that 3 of my friends also have their blackbelts in martial arts. It took only one punch and the situation was solved,” a laughing Kelvin says.
To give classes Kelvin needs to maintain himself too. By practicing yoga and training 5 times a week he stays fit to give classes. “I practice yoga and I cycle to really breathe properly. It also helps to take away stress.”
“My favorite spot in Punta Cana is when I cycle from Punta Cana Village all the way to Cap Cana to the mountain. Every time, I bike a bit further. It gives me a good feeling to progress. As I said, I like going forward.”
Want to follow classes from Kelvin at the Punta Cana Fitness Academy?
To see what he does with his students check out his Instagram for inspiring pictures and videos.