Athletics

On His Mark

By Ted Allen, October 31, 2018

OLYMPIC PENTATHLETE AND ONLINE STUDENT CHOOSES LIBERTY FOR HIS TRAINING GROUND

At age 18, Charles Fernandez represented Guatemala at the 2016 Summer Olympics after becoming the youngest athlete ever to win the modern pentathlon (fencing, swimming, equestrian, pistol shooting, and running) at the 2015 Pan Am Games.

Charles Fernandez won gold medals for Guatemala at the Central America & Caribbean Games in Colombia in July.

Fernandez finished 15th at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and then struck gold one week later at the Junior World Championships in Cairo, Egypt, elevating his world ranking
to No. 4.

Now he is a junior on Liberty University’s men’s swimming & diving team, training for his shot at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Born in Dayton, Ohio, Fernandez is one of three children of missionaries Heidi and Carlos Fernandez, natives of Ecuador and Guatemala, respectively. For the past 17 years, his family has operated Welcome To My Father’s House, an evangelistic ministry on the outskirts of Antigua, Guatemala, that provides education and medical care, as well as coordinates sports programs and construction projects, for the Mayan population in the
surrounding mountains.

Carlos Fernandez was a pentathlete himself and introduced Charles and his younger brother, Danny, to the sport. After completing high school through Liberty University Online Academy, Charles Fernandez moved to Lynchburg, Va., to train on Liberty’s campus as he pursues a degree in economics through the online program. Danny, a sophomore on the Flames’ swimming & diving team, studies strategic marketing management online. Danny also has Olympic aspirations and hopes to compete in modern pentathlon in 2024 in Paris.

Charles Fernandez, left, and his brother, Danny, a sophomore, are members of the Flames’ swimming & diving team.

The brothers spend the school year training together at the Liberty Natatorium, Indoor Track & Field Complex, Liberty Mountain Gun Club, and Equestrian Center.

“Liberty has some of the best athletic facilities in the whole world,” Charles Fernandez said. “I’ve trained in Olympic pools from Italy to Egypt, and the facilities here amazed me. That was one of the reasons I chose Liberty to begin with, as well as the Christian education.”

This summer, he had the opportunity to compete in multiple international pentathlons and to serve his homeland in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In early June, he was traveling through Europe for a series of pentathlons in Bulgaria, France, and Poland when the Fuego volcano erupted just 10 miles from his hometown. Fernandez was planning to return to Guatemala and climb Fuego that same week.

“When the volcano erupted, we decided to shift our focus from it being a vacation to being a ministry opportunity,” said Fernandez, who was traveling with his girlfriend, Liberty student Kristen Bray. “Since Kristen is studying nursing, she could use her skills to help people who have been badly burned or affected by this horrible tragedy.”

They started a GoFundMe page and raised $2,000 to purchase food, water, personal hygiene items, and clothing and teamed with Welcome To My Father’s House to distribute the goods. Bray aided survivors in a nearby hospital.

“It was definitely a huge blessing to be able to help people who were victims of the volcano in any way we could,” Charles said, noting that hundreds of people were killed and thousands left homeless after entire villages were covered with ash. “We helped to bring immediate relief to people who literally lost
absolutely everything.”

He was also one of five athletes recruited by the Olympic Committee in Guatemala this past summer to construct three houses in one of the villages destroyed by the eruption.

“As a Guatemalan, as a Christian, and as a public figure, I wanted to try to create awareness for the people of Guatemala,” Fernandez said. “This is not a process that will heal itself overnight.”

He continued his competitions during the summer, winning gold medals in mid-July when he represented Guatemala in two modern pentathlon events — the men’s individual and mixed relay (with Sophia Cabrera) — at the Central America & Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Colombia.

“Coming back to my country with two medals, it is definitely a huge blessing to be able to share these moments with these people who fight every day to get out of poverty and to give them the hope of Christ,” Fernandez said. “That is why I do what I do, to be a light of Christ unto the nations in this sport.”

The wins qualified him for next summer’s Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru. If he achieves a top-five finish there, he will qualify to represent Guatemala in the 2020 Olympic Games.

Charles Fernandez remained in Guatemala through mid-September to train with his coach, former Romanian Olympic pentathlete Marian Gheorghe, and compete at the Modern Pentathlon World Championships in Mexico City, where he qualified for the finals.

Charles and Danny Fernandez often train together in the five sports of Olympic modern pentathlon: swimming, fencing, running, pistol shooting, and equestrian.

Since returning to Liberty, he has intensified his workouts by spending up to seven hours per day training in all five sports, followed by strength and conditioning and physical
therapy sessions.

“With school on top of that, that makes for long, 10- to 11-hour days of training and study,” said Fernandez, who plans to graduate in Spring 2020.

From Oct. 6-18, Fernandez traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the Youth Olympic Games, where he joined some of the most influential Olympians from around the world in serving as an Athlete Role Model.

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