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Building Community through Sport

By AWP, 01/06/17, 5:15AM EST

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Moses Santiago’s New Mexico Elite Wrestling Academy.

            For Moses Santiago, wrestling is a family building exercise. At least that’s how he describes what motivated him to take a risk and open up his own gym this past August. His original inspiration comes from his youngest son. Santiago wanted to connect with him through their mutual love of wrestling. Although his son has since moved on to practice weight lifting, New Mexico Elite Academy remains a space that welcomes wrestlers as well as all members of the community. What started out as a leased space with some gym equipment has gradually become what Moses calls a “mini Olympic training center.” Along with his cousin, Santiago has created a gym where “you’re able to train with the best wrestlers and coaches in the state. All the coaches are state champs, have competed in college nationals and All Americans.”

            Although opening up a gym was a huge commitment, the entire process has been worth it, says Santiago. “It’s given me a big smile. I was so scared signing the lease, but we already have over 200 members for the gym –and that’s not including the wrestlers! Our junior wrestling program is one of the biggest with 78 athletes. Then we have open mat for the high school kids.” The gym is also open 24 hours, giving students flexibility on the amount of time they can train while still prioritizing school and other responsibilities.

            While the gym has a dedicated space for wrestlers, there is also a community exercise area that is open to the public. Moses’s dedication to the gym goes beyond the love of wrestling. He’s also been focusing on helping members of the community get healthy and his gym is a space distinct from that of a regular corporate gym. This space is intentionally made for people to feel comfortable when they work out. “We want our members to feel good about themselves. We give them a free week with certified trainers so they can get an idea of what that feels like.” This dedication to bolstering the community is one of Moses’s greatest goals for the academy. He describes his vision as a sanctuary for kids who may not have the best home lives to come and channel their energy into something positive. The cornerstone of building a team is to instill in each wrestler a desire to give back to their communities. In addition to giving back, he’d like his team to develop self-control.

            “Ultimately, every kid that comes through the program will learn that you get what you give. Winning isn’t everything, it’s what you learn.” When it comes to RMN events, Moses says that too is a family affair. “As time has gone by, we’ve establish a family and business relationship.  RMN has grown the sport and has helped kids that can’t travel to far places for tournaments. It’s something no other events organization has done.”

            Stay on the look-out for Moses Santiago and the New Mexico Elite Wrestling Club team –they’re bound to bring exciting action to the mat at any tournament.