July 23, 2021 : By Ted Allen - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Liberty University alumnus Charles Fernandez’s 12-year journey in pursuit of Olympic dreams will culminate Aug. 5-7 in Tokyo when he represents Guatemala in the modern pentathlon at the Summer Games.
Fernandez, a former Flames swimmer who graduated with degrees in business leadership and economics in May 2020, qualified for the Olympics by winning his second consecutive modern pentathlon gold medal at the Pan Am Games in Peru in 2019. This will be his second time to compete on the Olympic stage; he placed 15th at age 20 in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Fernandez, now 25, has been busier than ever over the past year — training, traveling, and competing in World Cup events to maintain his conditioning and stay in the competitive mindset after COVID-19 postponed the Summer Games and canceled most pentathlons last fall.
“I have been to Europe four times, Guatemala three times, the United States twice, and Africa once, all within the past six months, and I still have Tokyo to take care of,” Fernandez said earlier this month from his home in Guatemala, where his family runs My Father’s House ministries. “I competed in Hungary three times, Poland and Cairo (Egypt) once, and they have prepared me well. Since we haven’t competed in over a year and a half on the world stage, I was just getting back on that horse and competing and getting used to that atmosphere again.”
Fernandez has hopes of medaling at this year’s Olympics as one of 21 members of Team Guatemala. He is inspired by the people of his homeland to go for the gold and, in turn, serve as a role model to its youth, planting seeds of hope in their hearts and igniting their dreams before passing the Olympic torch onto the next generation of athletes.
“I have a passion to represent my country, the people supporting me, and above all to represent God on the world stage, to be an example of Christ’s love for the world on the biggest sporting stage,” Fernandez said. “My biggest prayer and wish is that my body, my mind, and my soul are at peace knowing that I’m ready to do that in the best way possible, and that regardless of the results, I gave absolutely everything I had in that competition.”
Anticipation is building as he prepares to fly from Guatemala to Japan on July 28. The men’s modern pentathlon begins with fencing on Aug. 5 at Tokyo Stadium, followed by swimming, more fencing, equestrian show jumping, and the final combined running and pistol competition on Aug. 7. (Watch NBC’s livestream of the Summer Games.)
More than being physically prepared to peak in each of the five events, Fernandez is taking time to make sure he is dialed in mentally, emotionally, and spiritually before the Games begin.
“If the mind is in the right place, the body will follow and be ready to compete,” Fernandez said. “Having the right mindset going into training, accepting the work that you need to do, is more about being OK emotionally, rather than physically.”
Since recovering from COVID-19 at Christmastime, Fernandez said he has emerged stronger than before, with no lingering side effects.
“It took three months to get back to full strength and be cleared to compete at 100 percent,” Fernandez said. “The biggest thing it attacked was my lung capacity and respiratory recovery time. I had to go through pulmonary testing to make sure that I would be able to push my body to the limits without risking (long-term damage). I needed to find a way around it to continue training instead of approaching it as an obstacle I couldn’t get through. I pushed through it, sucked it up.”
Both his father, Carlos, and Olympic coach, Marian Gheorghe, who placed seventh in the modern pentathlon for Romania at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain, believe Fernandez is fully equipped to do something special in Tokyo.
“He showed from the beginning that he has talent, someone who has a lot of courage and valor,” Gheorghe said in a documentary on Fernandez’s road to Tokyo. “He knows how to fight for his place. From the beginning, he has demonstrated and has achieved good results. He has managed to do things that not many can do. Charles has a lot of physical qualities and intelligence and … he was born for this sport.”
Carlos Fernandez, a modern pentathlete himself, said next week’s Games will be the capstone of an enormous body of work by his son, who is currently ranked 14th in the world.
“To be able to participate in the Olympic Games and be among the best athletes on the planet, you have to train and prepare for a lifetime, day after day, weeks, months, years,” he said. “After 10 years, after two Pan American gold medals, he has all the experience and ability to achieve something great, something significant.”
Inspired by his father, Fernandez shares his love for the sport through his service on the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Athletes Commission, representing athletes internationally for the modern pentathlon. He is currently a finalist for a larger role in which he would represent all pentathletes’ rights as a worldwide spokesperson for the IOC. Out of 30 candidates, four will be selected at the end of the Games.
“If I were elected, that would be as big as winning a medal,” said Fernandez, who served as an athlete role model at the 2019 Youth Olympic Games, teaching them what it takes to become an Olympic athlete. “I would be a beacon of reference and use my experiences to encourage young professional and Olympic athletes to continue their careers, leading people toward reaching their goals of becoming a high-performance individual athlete.”
In all, Fernandez wants to walk away from Tokyo with a sense of peace and satisfaction that he ran his race in a way that glorifies God.
“Regardless of what happens, the biggest thing is being very happy within this season, knowing God is there for me through everything,” Fernandez said. “Through the good and the bad, there are a lot of things we as humans can’t endure on our own, but only by what He brings through His grace and love.”