Convincing Bryan Sanchez was just the first step of Pablo Yeo’s plan.
The tricky part came next.
After convincing Sanchez, his cousin who had his left leg amputated at birth, to join the Everett wrestling team, he had to get approval from the one person who could send his plan crashing down: Sanchez’s mother.
“At first, (Sanchez) didn’t really want to wrestle. But I really talked him into it,” Yeo said. “I kept asking him every day, ‘When are you going to join? When are you going to join?’ Finally one day he’s like, ‘Fine, I’ll just try it.’ Then his mom didn’t want to let him.
“I had to talk her into it too.”
In the end, Sanchez got permission from his doctor and Yeo was successful. Sanchez joined the wrestling team in December of last year, and has quickly found a new passion.
“It looked fun, and my cousin Pablo did it,” Sanchez said. “He made it sound fun and I tried it out in middle school when we did it in gym and I liked it. … It’s all about you. It’s you who does it. I like it because it’s just me (on the mat).”
Sanchez, now a sophomore at Everett High School, is beginning to occasionally compete in varsity wrestling meets. It was a difficult road, because Sanchez is a unique Seagull.
When he was born, his left foot was not fully formed. As a result, doctors amputated his left leg. That has made many aspects of life a challenge for Sanchez, including wrestling.
“I’m proud of him. Most kids struggle out on the mat against another guy and use all the excuses they can in the world,” said Everett head coach Brien Elliott. “He has to step out there without a leg and do the same thing everyone else does and he has no excuses. He manages to overcome.”
In his first season with the Seagulls, Sanchez used a prosthetic leg during meets. But, after watching Arizona State wrestler Anthony Robles — who also wrestles with one leg — win an NCAA championship, Sanchez decided to try wrestling like Robles — without a prosthetic.
“It’s harder with the leg on,” Sanchez said, “because when I try to do stuff it gets dragged behind. I thought if I take it off it’d be a lot easier.”
Elliott said it’s been very helpful having Robles as an example for Sanchez. He’s especially thankful of the perfect timing. Robles won a championship right as Sanchez began wrestling.
“It was pretty ironic that his first year he turns out Anthony Robles wrestles in the NCAA tournament,” Elliott said. “Here’s a guy, one leg, wrestles in the NCAA Division 1 tournament and wins it. And here’s Bryan, in his first year of wrestling. It was kind of a unique experience to kind of happen at the same time.”
“One of my main points to my aunt, his mom, was I showed them the NCAA National Championship of Anthony Robles without his leg,” Yeo said. “… I showed Bryan the video, pretty much the first video he’d ever watched of wrestling, and I told him, ‘If that guy can do it, you can too.’”
Sanchez said he watches videos of Robles and tries to mimic his style. Sanchez has said he even copies Robles’ stance a little.
Still, there’s a lot to figure out for Sanchez. He works with Everett senior captain Jessie Lopez, who won a 3A state championship in the 132-pound weight class last year, in practice to modify his wrestling style.
“Some of the moves, like where you have to use two legs, I can’t really do that. (Certain moves) are kind of hard,” Sanchez said. “(For the most part) I do the same moves but adjust it a little bit so it fits me better.”
Lopez said it’s fun when the two come up with new tactics for Sanchez to use. The defending state champion said there are numerous challenges, but he enjoys working with Sanchez in practice.
“Sometimes (it’s stressful) because I don’t really know what it’s like,” Lopez said. “I tell him to do one thing and it’s a little bit harder for him to do. … Sometimes I’ve kind of got to see it from his point of view. What he’s doing.”
He also has to keep a close eye on Sanchez, because even if something’s not working he’ll keep trying until Lopez stops him.
Sanchez never lets up.
“He’ll try to do it to the point to where I see that he can’t do it and then I’ll have to change it up,” Lopez said.
Yeo also practices quite often with Sanchez. He said that when wrestling, Sanchez works on his agility and strength, while offering a unique challenge to Yeo who is trying to pin him.
“When he’s wrestling me … we’re practicing being agile, and shoot for one leg,” Yeo said. “He has a lot of upper body strength so if he gets you on one leg it’s pretty much over. If you’re wrestling him, the only thing you can try to do is get around him … but you can’t really shoot at him because he’s already on the floor.”
After a 6-3 junior varsity start to his sophomore campaign, Sanchez recorded the first title of his career, winning the 120-pound weight class in the Everett High School JV Gold Medal Tournament on Dec. 16. He had taken second at a tournament a week before.
Elliott, who had Sanchez in his physical education class four years ago at Evergreen Middle School, said Sanchez is beloved by his school, teammates and fans.
“He’s definitely a fan favorite,” Elliott said. “The parents really admire him and cheer for him. They were pretty excited for him after watching the rough start. He (struggled) but he wouldn’t give up. He kept fighting. He just has a never quit attitude.”
Sanchez, who would like to wrestle in college, doesn’t worry about what people think or if they know about his condition. He’s just focused on getting better, and, ultimately, getting the top prize.
A state championship.
“My goal is to win state. That’s my No. 1 goal right now,” Sanchez said. “I think I need to work. On everything. Just work harder to improve.”
Everett’s captain thinks that’s absolutely possible.
“Yeah, definitely,” Lopez said. “He could really get there. It just depends on how hard he’s willing to work and what his personal goals are. If he’s willing to do it he could do it if he wanted.”
Meanwhile, his parents still worry.
Sanchez said that after several matches, his mom, Cecilia Torres, will talk to him about wrestling.
“After I’m done wrestling she’ll talk to me, and see if I want to stop,” Sanchez said. “She’s worried about me getting hurt.”
“I think I’ve been seeing more growth in Bryan,” said Raul Sanchez, Bryan’s father. “We want to protect him. But on the other hand, maybe he does this and he can be stronger. He’s very into wrestling right now.”