Those family trips to work out at the old Bally's in Villa Park were anything but fun for Fabiola Carrillo, who'd inevitably be confined to the gym's day care area.
The 7-year-old prisoner was left to watch and wonder about the real action around her, particularly one class that actually seemed to encourage boys to spin and yell while kicking and punching each other.
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Fabiola CarrilloAge: 15
Hometown: Villa Park
School: Willowbrook High School
Who inspires you? My family and my coach inspire me.
What's on your iPod? Rap and hip hop
What book are you reading? "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck
The three words that best describe you? Caring, Outgoing, Humble.
Fabiola wanted in.
Her parents, submitting to their daughter's declaration that her days as a spectator were through, enrolled her in the male taekwondo class. Within a few months, Fabiola was sparring with the best of them, and being asked to join an elite tournament team.
Eight years later, she has state and national titles under her second-degree black belt.
"It was clear right away that she had the talent to go far," mother Fabiola Torres said. "But I never imagined what it would lead to."
For one, that early introduction to the martial art likely will require more passport pages.
The Willowbrook High School sophomore's dominant showings have taken her to competitions in Canada and Mexico. The Netherlands, Spain and Germany appear to be on the 2013 lineup as well.
Her wide eyes, however, are focused most on the real prize: a coveted spot on the U.S. Olympic team and a trip to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Based on the strides she's made of late, Fabiola, 15, and her instructor have growing confidence that she'll get there.
"She's one of the most gifted students I've ever worked with," said Jeffery Williams Sr., owner of the Xcellent Taekwondo Center in Dixmoor. "She's fast, she has good defense, the kicking and the power. But most of all, she has the discipline and work ethic."
Fabiola, or "Fabi" as Williams calls her, certainly is putting in the work. She trains at the South suburban facility at least two hours a day, six days a week -- or even seven before big tournaments. Sundays often consist of two separate training sessions with a lengthy jog in between.
During the school year, Fabiola gets to her Villa Park home in the afternoon, starts homework, eats and then continues studying in the car during the 45-minute drive to and from Dixmoor.
"Some of my friends get frustrated with me, asking how come you can't hang out," Fabiola said. "But there's not time to go to the movies and do everything I need to do."
Her parents, who describe Fabiola as happy, humble and mellow, are just as involved, playing the part of chauffeur every day and working three jobs between them to support Fabiola's dream of winning gold.
Their commitment, at least financially, thankfully will be lifted somewhat now that Fabiola has secured a place on three national teams during the 2012-13 season.
Her spot on the prestigious USA Taekwondo Junior National Team came in July by winning the USA Taekwondo National Championships in Dallas. In a single-elimination format, she won all four fights in her light middleweight division.
As a result of her title, next month Fabiola will travel to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for a cross-training event with other USA Junior National Team members and athletes from Mexico, Canada and Croatia, Williams said.
Just two weeks ago, Fabiola attended the team trials in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the Amateur Athletic Union Junior National Team. In the finals, she needed to beat a current team member twice without losing a match. She did, earning a spot on the team and a trip to Alicante, Spain, to represent the U.S. at the 2013 Spanish Open.
Williams said Fabiola, also a five-time state champion, is one of only three athletes in the country to make both teams.
Next up is compiling wins against foreign fighters, especially Europeans known for having a more aggressive style. That will be key to Fabiola making the Olympic team given the country's deep talent pool. Though there are several weight divisions, a total of only two females are chosen for the team.
Kind of like swimmer Michael Phelps, Fabiola can be seen before matches with her headphones on. She says tuning others out while listening to rap and hip hop helps put her in the right mental state.
She doesn't pay close attention to the sport's biggest names, either, cutting down on the intimidation factor.
"To me, every opponent is the same and I just have to do my thing," Fabiola said. "It helps me not get nervous."
Despite her success, you'll never catch Fabiola gloating. In fact, many of her school teachers don't know she's a growing force in the taekwondo world. And her mom says you'll never catch her complaining or slacking in school.
Fabiola's journey hasn't been without setbacks. She came to a crossroads earlier this year when a less-than-stellar showing at the Mexico National Taekwondo Championships in Puebla brought her to the edge of quitting.
That's when Williams stepped in with a list of quotes from athletes like Michael Jordan and Mia Hamm, all touting the need for practice, persistence and a commitment to work hard.
"I told her, 'If you quit today, we'll know where your story ends,'" Williams said. "She made the decision to stick with it, and I think she's happy she did."
• Kimberly Pohl wrote today's column. She and Elena Ferrarin always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of a young person whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (847) 608-2733.