In 1999, Paul Hornak first got introduced to the world of Pokémon, a card game, videogame, television and movie franchise that features young people competing in head to head battles fought by proxy with animated monsters.

Ten years later, Hornak is living out a Pokémon adventure of his own, heading to the Pokémon Video Game and Trading Card Game National Championships.

"Pokémon was a large part of my life then," he said Thursday, "And I guess you don't lose that as you get older."

A 2006 Sultana High School graduate, Hornak is now studying nursing at Victor Valley College. An avid gamer -- "I excel at Call of Duty," he says -- he came in first place in the Senior Division at a regional tournament in Phoenix on May 23.

"Before the competition, you're nervous," said Hornak, who had tried to enter two previous tournaments, but was prevented by circumstance. "There's only so much practice can give you."

He was pitted against seven other players in head-to-head competitions using the Nintendo DS handheld game platform in a single-elimination competition.

"I had an early scare. 'If this keeps happening,'" he recalled thinking, "'I don't know if I can pull this off.'"

But in the fourth round, he beat a skilled player he knew of from the online Pokémon community.

"'OK, I can do this,'" he remembered thinking afterward.

The top 16 competitors from regional competitions around the country will meet in St. Louis this weekend, vying for a chance to go to the world championships in San Diego, where the prize is a trip to New York City, Hawaii or Japan.

But before that, he has to assemble a new team of Pokémon characters and new strategies that haven't yet been read over and analyzed by the online player community.

"Everybody knows the strategy I used," he grinned.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.