WATERVILLE — Derek Beaulieu wants to be the best. And he’s willing to put in the hours — and the miles — to get there.

For four out of the five days during the school week, the 15-year-old and China resident goes to karate class in Augusta. Then he practices at home. Then Friday comes and it’s off to anywhere throughout New England for a tournament Saturday, anywhere between two-and-a-half to four hours away.

“Our schedule is based around Friday and then other stuff comes after that,” Beaulieu said. “When we try to think of something (to do), we try to think ‘Oh, I’ve got karate class today, I’ve got to go to this.’ Or ‘I have a tournament, sorry, I can’t do this with you guys.’ Karate comes first.”

It’s a grind, but it’s paid off. Beaulieu has climbed the ladder in his 12th year of karate, and is New England’s top-ranked fighter in the 13-15 Black Belt division.

“The strive to be the number one fighter has been my most pushing (incentive) ever,” Beaulieu said after a third-place finish in the weapons form class at Saturday’s Battle of Maine at Thomas College, and before returning to compete in the kata and fighting events. “To strive and know that I can be the best I can for fighting and be the number one person in New England for my division has pushed me forward.”

Karate has long been a part of the Beaulieu family — Derek’s father, Bill, did martial arts, and his cousins Alex and Abby were also competing Saturday — but it took a while for it to go from being Derek’s hobby to becoming his passion, with over 20 tournaments between November and June.

“He started out really uncoordinated,” said Brent Crisci, Beaulieu’s sensei with Team Kick USA at United Martial Arts Academies. “Kind of a class clown. He’s a good kid, bright kid, but he was getting a little bit of trouble because he wanted attention. … Over the last four years, he’s really come into his own, and that’s cool to see the hard work pay off.”

It’s not an easy sport to pursue, however. There aren’t elite karate tournaments popping up throughout central Maine, so getting better meant getting serious. Beaulieu rarely competes in Maine, has been to events in every New England state but Rhode Island and has even taken his bouts over the border to Quebec, where he’ll travel again in April.

“Now, where he wants to push a little bit more, if there’s a competition and he’s feeling up to it, we’ll go to it,” Bill said.

Some of the crowds can near 1,000 competitors. Beaulieu isn’t fazed.

“You definitely have to forget everything outside,” he said. “You have to focus on your form, and when I do that, I don’t look at anything else. I just focus on my form and how I have to perform, and nothing else distracts me while I do it.”

For Beaulieu, it’s never too much. Even when he’s not practicing or competing, he teaches at his dojo as Crisci’s senpai, and was elected team captain before the season. And the travel isn’t about to get lighter: Beaulieu’s on track to compete at the World Cup in Mexico in 2019.

Just call it the price of being No. 1.

“It’s one of the best feelings in the world. Then I can talk to my friends about how I’m the No. 1 fighter in New England,” he said. “It just shows that they can do basketball and stuff, but I can do this for my entire life and this will stick with me forever. It’s one of the best feelings I can have.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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