Saturday was one of those almost but not quite days for the Campbell County boys soccer team. Top-ranked and consensus favorite to win the Class 4A state soccer tournament, the Camels fell just …
LARAMIE — After he had reviewed the phases of motor development in kinesiology, simplified complex problems drawn on a dusty chalkboard in algebra and calculated genotypes using the Hardy Weinberg equilibrium model in genetics, Alfonso Hernandez had 30 minutes to relax before starting a 2-hour wrestling practice that would leave him drenched in sweat. It was 12:30 p.m. on a Tuesday.
“There are times when I don’t want to do it,” Hernandez said from a couch in the Wyoming wrestling locker room. “I don’t want to go write this term paper, or something. I just want to stay home and watch a movie or do something else. But then I tell myself that’s what most people would do. And I’m not most people.”
Hernandez is many things. He is one of the nation’s best 197-pound collegiate wrestlers, a senior who has won 20 matches so far this season and only lost one — a one-point decision to the defending national champion. He is a husband, and a father of two. He is a kinesiology major with a 3.65 GPA who is preparing for his second round of MCATs and determined to go to medical school.
In short, Hernandez is a 23-year-old who seems much older than he is, a young man who seems to succeed in every aspect of his life.
He says he made a decision to change his life. He said he now enjoys the process of working tirelessly toward his goals even though he never lets himself be satisfied with his success. It’s an approach to life he has developed over the years — one that he hopes will continue to inspire those around him.
“Wherever your life is right now, if you’re going down the wrong road, you can easily turn it around and succeed,” he tells the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/W7kFMS).
Things weren’t always this way. Before Hernandez was a wrestler, he was a fighter.
After his parents divorced when he was in second grade, he often got into trouble for beating up his elementary school classmates in Idaho.
“I was a big bully,” he said.
The misbehavior continued in junior high. When he skipped class and stole fireworks from a friend’s stepfather’s house, he received three months of probation for petty larceny. That mistake made a boy ask himself an adult question.
“What path am I going on right now?” Hernandez remembers thinking. “Right now, it’s petty theft. In the future, what is it going to be? Am I going to be doing drugs? Am I going to be stealing cars? This is definitely not the way I want to go.”
He says that’s when the fights and trouble with the law ended. Hernandez worked harder in school and excelled at football — the sport he believed he would play in college. But wrestling offered something unexpected. It made his worries go away. It made stress, anxiety and anger dissolve.
“It’s just my moment,” he said.
Blackfoot High (Idaho) wrestling coach Brian Barlow, who has since retired, watched an inexperienced wrestler win based on sheer will. He watched Hernandez beat better opponents by forcing them to quit. He outworked them until he won.
And he did win. Hernandez placed fifth at state as a sophomore. The following seasons, he won back-to-back state championships at 189 then 215 pounds.
“He’s just got such indomitable spirit,” Barlow said. “I’ve never been associated with anything so strong in my whole life.”
Barlow watched the same spirit show in other ways. He saw Hernandez graduate high school as a National Honor Society Member with a 3.7 GPA. He knew Hernandez proposed to his high school sweetheart, Stephanie, at the age of 18, before the two had their first son, Aiden.
In situations where others might pull away or panic, Barlow saw Hernandez thrive.
“He came from a disadvantaged youth, with split parents in poor economic conditions,” Barlow said. “He didn’t have stability. That’s where Fonz is probably special. He realized all of this. He realized he controls his destiny. He controls his pride and how he is perceived. He has always had a vision, a wisdom beyond his age ... His pride always elevates him to the upper level, whether it be in social situations or athletics. He has just always seemed to take control of his destiny.”
Spend time with Hernandez and it shows. His approach to life rubs off on those around him.
Wyoming wrestling coach Mark Branch asks his team to follow Hernandez’s example. He wishes others would find the drive that led Hernandez to a sixth-place finish at the NCAA tournament last year — a feat that came after Hernandez had missed the previous season due to a back injury that required surgery.
Wyoming wrestlers, like 125-pound sophomore Tyler Cox, say Hernandez makes every wrestler in every weight class better. When the best wrestler in the room works the hardest, no one else has an excuse to take it easy.
Wyoming professors feel it, too. They smile when Hernandez raises his hand to ask or answer questions, or scribbles notes into one of the 3-inch black binders he keeps for every class.
“He’s inspiring,” Barlow said. “People gain strength from him.”
Hernandez knows it’s true. He wants to be an example. It’s part of what fuels him to win a national championship this year, to become a doctor and support his family, to give others who have struggled a reason to believe they can succeed.
“I see myself as a huge role model for Hispanic kids, especially ones living with single parents,” Hernandez said. “I’ve been there. I’ve done that . The statistics aren’t high for us to go out and conquer the world. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Shortly after 1 p.m., Hernadez’s half-hour rest on a recent Tuesday came to an end.
Another lecture for another class was waiting in the afternoon. For that reason, Hernandez would practice without his team today. He and a partner, senior 174-pounder Michael Poulos, would be the only two in the wrestling room. No coaches would be present.
No one would yell, or even know, if Hernandez took it easy. No one other than himself.
For that reason, he would tie his shoes and run laps. He would wrestle, shoot takedown after takedown. He would leave Poulos twisted and crumpled on the mat, help him up and take him down again. When Hernandez’s shirt was stained through with sweat and his legs were wobbly, he would stop. He would change shoes, put on more clothes, then go run stairs. After class, he would go home, talk to his wife and his boys (a second son, Madden, has since joined the family) and study.
And in the morning, the man who says he wants to conquer the world, would get up and start all over again.
“I used to be afraid to fail,” Hernandez said before lifting himself from the couch. “Now I’m not afraid of failure. I know if I go out and perform to the best of my abilities, even if I did fail, I’ll be satisfied — satisfied with my performance alone.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com