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Daniel Lehmkuhl's silver-medal automotive skills

Daniel LehmkuhlÕs next off to the California State Championship and then an international competition in London next year.
Daniel LehmkuhlÕs next off to the California State Championship and then an international competition in London next year. The Tribune

San Luis Obispo native Daniel Lehmkuhl thought he was ready for anything when he went to Rio de Janeiro, where he won a silver medal and the “Best in Nation” trophy at the WorldSkills Americas automotive technology competition this month.

But he was not prepared for the instruction manuals to be in Portuguese, a language he does not understand.

“I had to use an interpreter for everything from the computer systems to tech data,” the 20-year-old Cuesta College student said. “It was phenomenally challenging,”

In the months leading up to the competition, Lehmkuhl, who has won awards in previous automotive competitions, spent his time having diagrams and technical data translated from Portuguese to English. He contacted foreign-car dealerships, researched the foreign cars’ diagrams and duplicated the challenges he expected to see in Brazil.

He also visited the Volkswagen training center in Lemoore and an automotive school in Kansas City, Kan., to train with the national head coaches.

Lehmkuhl did not win any cash prizes. Brazilians view winning a medal as the ultimate prize, he said.

“The competition was like the Olympics down there — contest participants got red carpet treatment,” Lehmkuhl said. “I felt like a celebrity being followed by cameras. It was the best experience of my life.”

He is now preparing for the California State Championship, which will be held in San Diego from April 8 to 11. If he performs well, he will advance to Nationals in June.

He is also looking forward to the WorldSkills International Competition in London in 2011. It is similar to the competition in Brazil, but it encompasses the entire world, he said.

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