Go ahead and call Henry Cejudo’s life choices crazy. Most everyone else has. After all, who transfers halfway through high school, away from family and friends, to be closer to an Olympic training center two states away?
Who skips out on college for more wrestling workouts?
The same guy who could be America’s best hope for an Olympic wrestling medal in Beijing next month?
Cejudo, that’s who.
Training never stops for the 21-year-old from Phoenix. The 121-pounder secured one of six spots on the U.S. Olympic freestyle team late last month. The team is practicing at Arizona State for the next week before returning to Colorado, then going to China.
Henry got there by winning a best-of-three series in one day against 2004 silver medalist Stephen Abas at the Olympic trial finals three weeks ago.
Cejudo’s sparring partner is his older brother, Angel. An Olympic hopeful himself at 132 pounds until the 22-year-old Angel lost in a late qualifying match on what he called a “mistake.”
Nothing in the sound of his voice or face says “regret,” even as his younger brother readies himself for the international matches of a lifetime.
It was the older brother’s job to push around the younger, and that’s what he’s going to do. This time in the pursuit of gold.
“Last year I could have said me,” Angel said of the better wrestler. “Now it’s another level.”
“My goal is to get my brother ready, and take the pressure off him,” Angel said. “He did it all, and all I can do now is support.”
Henry has been at another level since fourth grade, where among the most infuriating moments of his brilliant career was being a 10-year-old not allowed on the practice mat because of injury.
The youngest of seven children long since learned it was take, or be taken.
“Always the last one to get anything,” he said. “I had to learn to fight.”
He learned quickly and thoroughly. He was the ol’ first-in-the-gym, last-one-out, and outworked high school kids five and six years older. He was pushed and prodded by Angel and coaches in the Valley-based Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club.
He won state championships his first two years at Phoenix Maryvale High School before he moved by himself to Colorado Springs, home of a U.S. Olympic training center. He won two more high school state championships at Colorado, matching the four Angel won at Maryvale.
“We were tough on them, and we believed in what they could do,” said Richard Fimbres, who’s helped coach the Cejudo brothers since they were Sunkist youths. “If one of them took third or fourth place, they’d make fun of each other, but it made (Henry) who he is.”
Fimbres sported a black T-shirt with the Cejudo brothers’ faces imprinted on it and a “Train Hard or Go Home” slogan, which was made for the Olympic Trials last month.
Updated ones will be made before they head to Beijing, and they hope to not be alone. With such a large family unable to afford the costs of China, they are raising money through their Web site — www.teamcejudo.com — in hopes of harnessing nearly $15,000.
So there’s even more work to be done, which is just what Henry loves.
“Until I accomplish what I want to and am done wrestling, it’s going to be like that,” he said. “You have to be willing to do it all to beat them.”