Indian Trail’s 12-year-old Carter Cardona is Athlete of the Year
Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013

Indian Trail’s 12-year-old Carter Cardona is Athlete of the Year

    Carter Cardona, a 12-year old Indian Trail resident, recently was named North Carolina AAU taekwondo Male Athlete of the Year.
    Carter Cardona, left, trains at Ballantyne Kicks with his uncle, Master Russell Aupied.

Carter Cardona is a serious taekwondo competitor.

So one can understand why his coach shakes his head and grins when he hears Carter discuss his inspiration for trying martial arts for the first time five years ago.

“It was mostly watching action movies,” Carter said. “I wanted to be like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

The way Carter trains and competes these days, there’s no mistaking his taekwondo for make-believe. The 12-year-old Indian Trail resident has won several state and national championships over the past three years.

Earlier this month, Carter was named North Carolina AAU taekwondo Male Athlete of the Year.

Carter trains at Ballantyne Kicks under the direction of Master Russell Aupied, who happens to be Carter’s uncle.

Aupied, a Ballantyne resident, says probably 98percent of those who register for taekwondo classes – mostly youths – do so because they have an interest in making it a hobby. They or their parents are interested in the martial art’s elements of self-defense, respect, focus and discipline, Aupied says.

Only a handful end up approaching taekwondo as a sport.

Aupied said Carter is among four of approximately 300 Ballantyne Kicks students who compete in tournaments.

The son of Jason and Jennifer Aupied, Carter convinced his father to let him try taekwondo when he was 7 years old. Carter started in an introductory class but quickly separated himself from his classmates.

When he first started, said Russell Aupied, “it was about six or seven months in and (his father and I) thought, ‘He’s got it. He has a lot of talent.’”

In the Olympic sparring style of taekwondo, in which Carter competes, judges award points for landing kicks to an opponent’s body and head. Carter’s agility, footwork and speed of his kicks make him a top competitor.

Carter won the first tournament in which he competed, the Powerade State Games in Charlotte, in March 2009. In his first match, he won by the mercy rule, building a seven-point lead in the first minute.

Since 2011, Carter has won three N.C. AAU state championships, two AAU national titles and a USA Tae Kwon Do state championship. When he won this year’s AAU national championship in July, he earned a spot on the U.S. cadet team, granting him an opportunity to train with other top competitors for a week in January in either Chicago or Dallas.

Finding opponents in his age group (10- to 11-year-old black belts) and his weight class (78-90 pounds) is not easy. Though there might be as many as 40 competitors in his bracket at a national tournament, there often are only three to four participants at a state event.

Sparring with local talent is just as challenging. Because there aren’t any other competitors of equal size and age at Ballantyne Kicks, Carter often spars with fighters from other local facilities, including King Tiger Tae Kwon Do in Mint Hill and Wow Taekwondo in Waxhaw.

Carter trains six to seven days a week. He decided to give up football in August when competing in the prestigious U.S. Open became his goal. The U.S. Open is one of the largest taekwando tournaments in the U.S., with athletes attending from worldwide.

It will be the first time Carter attends the open, an international competition sanctioned by the World Taekwondo Federation, to be held in February in Las Vegas.

Carter is an honor roll seventh-grade student at Porter Ridge Middle School. He says his short-term goal is to finish in the top four at the U.S. Open.

Long-term, he said, he’d like to win a U.S. Open or a national championship sanctioned by the WTF.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at

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