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    Default Article on Henry Cejudo in most recent Sports Illustrated

    Bring On the World

    The son of former illegal immigrants, 20-year-old Henry Cejudo has
    overcome hardship to become the youngest U.S. wrestling champion in
    decades. Now he wants to be the best on the planet.
    Cejudo, who won his first senior national title last year as a a high
    schooler, beat Nick Simmons in April to repeat as champ.

    By Mark Beech

    The long, low-slung wrestling room at the U.S. Olympic Training
    Center in Colorado Springs is not a welcoming space. There are no
    windows or air conditioning. Sweat streaks not only the mats but also
    the padding on the walls. During a typical two-hour practice session
    for the men’s freestyle team, when the activity of roughly 30
    wrestlers pushes the temperature well over 80°, the atmosphere gets
    downright ripe. The only sounds, besides the commands of coaches, are
    the grunts of combatants, the thuds of falling bodies and the
    occasional yelps of pain. It is a room in which the weak don’t stand
    a chance.

    In a far corner Henry Cejudo is hard at work. The reigning national
    champion at 121 pounds (he won his second straight title in Las Vegas
    in April) and a resident athlete at the OTC since the fall of 2004,
    he has thrived in an environment that has broken wrestlers with
    sparkling résumés from some of the best college programs in the
    country. He punctuates every grueling practice by lifting weights or
    running a quick three or four miles around nearby Memorial Park
    afterward. Cejudo, who was born in Los Angeles to then illegal
    immigrants from Mexico City who met in the U.S., is the toughest
    wrestler in the room. He’s also, by his sport’s standards, just a
    boy — a few months past his 20th Â*birthday — and the youngest member
    of the U.S. national team. Last year he lost in the finals of the
    world team trials to 36-year-old world bronze medalist Sammie Henson,
    who Â*remains his top rival for a spot on the 2008 Olympic squad.
    Cejudo (pronounced say-HOO-doh) is a prodigy of the sort rarely found
    in the U.S. freestyle program, which typically Â*doesn’t get its hands
    on wrestlers until they’ve completed their college careers. He burst
    onto the international scene in November 2005 while still a senior in
    high school, winning the New York Athletic Club Holiday International
    after defeating ‘04 NCAA champion Jason Powell of Nebraska in the
    quarterfinals and dominating junior world champion Besik Kudukhov of
    Russia in the semis. Five months later Cejudo became the first high
    schooler to win a senior national championship since USA Wrestling
    became the sport’s governing body in 1983. “He is the future of
    wrestling,” says U.S. freestyle head coach Kevin Jackson. “He’s going
    to win a lot of world and Olympic titles for us and for himself. We
    expect him to wrestle until 2012 or 2016 and dominate the world.”
    That would be fine with Cejudo, who will be the No. 1 seed in his
    weight class this weekend at the world team trials in Las Vegas.
    Henson has missed time with a knee injury, leaving a hole in the
    weight division that only Cejudo seems ready to fill. At 5′ 4″, he is
    a compact mass of muscle and focused aggression. Since he began
    wrestling in junior high, he has thought of little else but winning
    world and Olympic championships. Indeed, he is obsessed with those
    goals, driven by a desire to prove himself to the world, as well as
    to a father he never really knew.

    Jorge Cejudo — who also used the aliases Favian Roca, and Emiliano
    and Javier Â*Zaragosa was no stranger to trouble. Throughout the 1990s
    he moved in and out of the California penal system for a variety of
    offenses. His crimes cost him more than his freedom; they also cost
    him his family. In May 1991, on the eve of his release from jail,
    Nelly Rico, the woman with whom he shared a home in South Central
    L.A., moved with her six kids to Las Cruces, N.Mex. The four youngest
    of those children (one girl and three boys) were Jorge’s, including
    the baby, four-year-old Henry. “My mom Â*didn’t want to be around my
    dad because of the way he was,” Henry says.

    The splintered family spent 2 1/2 years in New Mexico before Nelly,
    now 47, moved them again, to Phoenix. Often holding down two jobs,
    and mostly doing factory work, she struggled to make ends meet. She
    and her children maintained no permanent residence, sometimes staying
    in a house or apartment for only two months and sleeping four or more
    to a bed while sharing living space with other families and
    friends. “We were never finished packing,” says Henry’s older sister
    Gloria. “We’d move from upstairs to downstairs in the same apartment

    In such close quarters (another sister, Christy, arrived in 1995)
    tempers were often on edge, and Henry fought frequently with his
    brother Angel, who was older by just 16 months. It was Angel who
    found his way to wrestling first, and Henry soon followed, thrilled,
    he says, with the idea that he could “get trophies for fighting.” By
    the time he reached Phoenix’s Maryvale High, he and Angel were
    dominating local competition. “Every time they left to go to a
    tournament, Mom ingrained in them that the way we lived should be a
    motivation to them,” says Gloria. “She said that how [little] we had
    had nothing to do with who they were. They took that onto the mat
    with them. They still do.”

    Angel was the star back then, graduating from Maryvale in 2004 with
    four state championships and a career record of 150–0. He had
    scholarship offers from several college programs but no desire to
    continue going to school. When Dave Bennett, the national
    developmental freestyle coach for USA Wrestling, offered him a chance
    to join the resident freestyle program in Colorado Springs, he jumped
    at the opportunity. Bennett says that while he was arranging for
    Angel’s arrival, somebody from Phoenix — he Â*doesn’t remember who –
    asked if Henry, then 17, could come along too. “And I thought, I like
    that idea,” says Bennett.

    Henry, who’d just won his second straight Arizona state championship,
    was already on the radar in Colorado Springs. He had spent several
    weeks early in the summer of 2004 training at the OTC with Patricia
    Miranda, who was a couple months away from winning Olympic bronze at
    106 pounds in Â*Athens in women’s freestyle. She had first met Cejudo
    on a trip to Phoenix, during a training session at a local high
    school. “He kept taking me down,” says Miranda. “He moved so well
    from position to position. Once we found out how well he challenged
    me, we wanted to include him in my every-day training.”
    When the Cejudo boys began their residency at the OTC at the start of
    the school year, they were assigned to separate dorm rooms and slept
    in their own beds for the first time in their lives. But wrestling
    remained at the center of their worlds. Henry Â*couldn’t get enough of
    the program, rising before 6 a.m. for individual workouts with
    resident freestyle coach Terry Brands, then running or biking to
    classes five miles away at Coronado High. After school he would
    return for freestyle practice. He also found time to wrestle for
    Coronado, winning two Colorado state championships to go along with
    his pair from Arizona. Angel, despite some initial success, has not
    fared as well. He is still in the residency program but has struggled
    with his weight (he wrestles in the 132-pound class), as well as with
    the demands of raising a two-year-old daughter with his girlfriend,
    Angela. “He’s trying to balance where he’s at in life,” says Bennett.
    Like his brother, Henry decided to forgo college in favor of training
    with the OTC freestyle program. “It was never my goal to be an NCAA
    champion,” he says. His talent is perfectly suited to freestyle,
    which rewards aggressiveness. Cejudo’s ability to create scoring
    opportunities from almost any Â*position — he’ll often drop to his
    knees before Â*attacking — is unmatched on the U.S. team. “His hip
    [flexibility] is unbelievable,” says Brands, a two-time world
    champion and the bronze medalist at 128 pounds at the 2000
    Olympics. “He can do things that most guys can’t or won’t because
    they’re so difficult.”

    It is no coincidence that Cejudo began trying to reunite with his
    father at precisely the time he’d started making his family name one
    of the most prominent in American wrestling. How do you like me now,
    Dad? Nelly had always refused to say anything negative about Jorge,
    telling his four children that their father loved them very much. But
    her kids had spent nearly 20 years blaming him for all of the
    miseries they had endured. Last year, when Henry expressed an
    interest in going to Mexico City to see his father — with whom he
    had spoken on the phone only once in 15 years — his siblings talked
    him out of it. “We had called my father’s family, and his sister said
    he was still messed up on drugs,” says Gloria. “I wasn’t going to let
    Henry go and see him like that.”

    He will never have another opportunity. Jorge Cejudo died of heart
    failure at his mother’s home on May 9 at age 44, the result, his
    family says, of years of drug and alcohol abuse. Any hope Henry held
    out for closure, for meeting the man who never saw him wrestle, is
    lost. “I should have done more,” he says of his plans to visit his
    dad. “I just obeyed.”

    Cejudo is still drawing motivation from his father, insisting his
    death will not be a distraction this weekend in Las Vegas. “It’s bad
    timing,” he admits, “but I’m sure if he was at the tournament, he’d
    want me to win.”

    There is enough anguish behind that statement to choke up the
    toughest man in any wrestling room. But Henry Cejudo — the toughest
    man on the U.S. team — does not cry. He simply says, “I’ve just got
    to win.”
    Last edited by Schlottke; 06-17-2007 at 07:09 PM.

  2. #2
    Olympic Champ goferphan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Article on Henry Cejudo in most recent Sports Illustrated

    good stuff, great article...i read it in SI...
    "Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until they speak."

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