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JoJo Armstrong: "I Am Most Thankful"

By Bill X. Barron, 05/21/19, 9:45PM MDT


Special Kid Inspires Greatness In Us All

Josiah ‘JoJo’ Armstrong – Grindhouse Wrestling AZ

“I Am Most Thankful”

By Bill X. Barron, RMN Events Writer

Many people live life moment to moment. For a special few of us, each moment is a lifetime. One of these extraordinary young persons, with the personal magnetism, instant charm, and positive energy to elevate all whose lives he touched, is young Josiah (JoJo) Armstrong of the Grindhouse and Sunnyside Wrestling Clubs (Arizona).

There are those we will remember for the rest of our lives, no matter how short or long we share this time on Earth with them. JoJo lived and loved and learned each day, every minute of his 12 years. Whether you knew him as a fierce competitor or as the coach by your side, as a likable prankster or as everyone’s best friend, JoJo made an unmistakable impact.

On January 24th, 2019, JoJo was diagnosed with liver failure, but tests for a source came back negative. One week later, he was still training teammates for State even though he was not feeling his best. Twenty-four hours later he was gone. Coach Mike Bravo asserts: “JoJo was that type of kid, one who always puts others before himself and gave his best to everyone.”

A healthy and successful athlete, one who experienced loss by score but who was never defeated in spirit, Josiah succumbed without warning or known cause. As dad James reflects: “In his time, JoJo beat some highly ranked kids but could not defeat an idiopathic (spontaneous) disease that came from nowhere.”

“An electric spirit, JoJo profoundly impacted my life,” says Sunnyside Coach Fernando Villaescusa. “JoJo will remain in my heart always.” Josiah’s “charisma and special presence made you take notice when he walked into a room or participated in a tournament,” states parent Kirsten Krzysztofiak. “Not one thing will ever define that kid.” Wyatt Fry, a close friend two years younger, “looked up to him,” appreciating the way “he taught me to fight harder in everything. JoJo helped me win championships.”

When he was but 7, Coach Chris Zasa started JoJo and his 9-year old brother James Jr. “who knew how to fight but not how to wrestle.” Although JoJo “went from nothing to fantastic,” of greater import to Zasa: “Josiah taught me to teach more than just technique. He showed me and all his teammates how to excel on the mat and in life.” JoJo’s older brother James, Jr. remembers: “JoJo was always caring for others. He was so intelligent. He knew just how to wrestle me in order to make me better.”

Coach Zasa asserts: “JoJo was a leader, a peacekeeper with the best of intentions. He wanted to make sure that what’s right is right, not just for himself but for everyone. That’s what he was here for.” As mom Janelle declares: “Josiah has never been afraid to tell you what’s on his mind. All the kids gravitated to him and loved being around him. His smile just melted my heart.”

In January of 2017, as a 10-&-Under competing at the Tulsa Nationals, Josiah did a live video interview with FloWrestling: “What I really like to do is practice, because I like to learn new things: to start from scratch by breaking things down. I am most thankful for this moment: to get to compete here with my coaches and teammates. They are the ones who brought me along the way to get to where I am now.”

Dad James Armstrong, pictured holding RMN Grand Canyon champion sons Josiah and James Jr., reveled in and felt welcomed by the RMN event atmosphere, “loving the camaraderie, family orientation, and celebration of God. My kids made friends from all over. Ed Gutierrez’s sons Joshua, Adam, and Jordon have always been like family to us.”

At the 2018 RMN Monster Match Nationals, JoJo wagered with his coach for a sandwich if he won. Coach Anthony Leon relates: “In the finals, after he was slammed on his head, Jo just smiled at me and asked: ‘Do you still have that sandwich?’ After he won, but before the referee raised his hand, JoJo took a bite of his prize! We can all learn from his attitude of gratitude.”

As an official, JoJo made an immediate impact on me because he was unfailingly upbeat, engaged, and smiling. Just the same, win or lose, it was evident that he was grappling to find a peace within himself. In Josiah’s words: “Wrestling has taught me self-discipline, how to carry myself with passion, and how to keep in high spirits without throwing a fit or putting myself down. If I do lose, I tell myself to stick with it; I remind myself that I still got it, that I can still place.”

Proclaims Leon, head coach for Sunnyside High in Tucson, AZ: “JoJo was ahead of his time, knowing how to enjoy life before many of his peers did. He had a knack for getting the best out of people. Before high school state, we placed the last shoes he wore on the wrestling room wall. We won the 2019 Arizona Team Championship by over 100 points. He had the ability to inspire even older kids to wrestle for him.”

Josiah was a student of the sport who helped teach moves at practice and explain to his peers what they could do better in their matches. Echoing a sentiment expressed by many teammates, Noah cites that “I earned JoJo’s respect”; from that point onward, Jo drilled him harder, while continuing to correct technique and coach him in his matches. “An unusually intelligent kid, he only needed to be shown moves one time,” says Sunnyside Coach Bravo.

After he was eliminated at Tulsa, Grindhouse Coach Bret Fry asked him to help coach his son and Jo’s practice partner Wyatt in the 2017 8U finals. Totally into the role, Josiah dressed up in suit and tie, just as if he were a college coach, then flashed a coaching pass to security as he walked by without stopping!

“If I was going to compete again in the Masters, I would have no problem having JoJo coach me,” Fry states. Bravo adds: “When he wasn’t wrestling, JoJo was coaching or helping a teammate. It was like having another assistant coach.”

Noah’s mom Kirsten notes that “he was Coach LC’s righthand man and the unannounced leader of the Grindhouse Club.” Coach LC Cain adds: “JoJo was the heartbeat of Grindhouse – fiery and passionate, but personable. His qualities represented us all.” Coach Leon comments: “JoJo taught us all not to dwell on the negative, to appreciate everything you have, to know it’s a good life.”

JoJo also practiced with the Sunnyside Wrestling Club, where his drilling partner was Audrey Jimenez. Her father Guillermo relates: “Josiah will always hold a special place in our hearts. He did not like bullying; he’d call out teammates whenever he saw it going on. When he practiced with Audrey, he didn’t treat her like a girl. She earned his respect. After they competed against one another in a tournament, Jo was right there coaching her from the corner in her next match.”

Guillermo continues: “On the evening of his visit to the Phoenix hospital, he wasn’t feeling well, but he still drilled with Audrey to prepare her for a tournament.” Wrestling two days later in Josiah’s memory at the SDIKWA Super Bowl Brawl, she beat highly ranked Robert Jones of the host school Poway (CA) and was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler.

On that very same weekend, 1240 miles away at the RMN Wild West (WY), Wyatt Fry displayed “J-O” with his hands as he was awarded the Triple Crown Belt for earning RMN championships in 3 states: New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. Josiah had that power to inspire greatness in others.

“He had this glow and this passion – all of us need that,” affirms Coach Fry. Grindhouse wrestlers now sport headgear stickers, car decals, special singlets, and t-shirts with JoJo’s picture which reflect how Josiah’s spirit and character live on through his teammates, parents, and coaches. Brother James, Jr. remembers JoJo before each competition by performing the backhand springs and backflips they used to do together.

In reality, those who know JoJo have experienced his distinct personalities. Cites Dad James, Sr.: “JoJo is the toughest kid I have ever known. Even if he was down 8-10 points, he’d still rip off a headlock to win. But he was also humble, super outgoing, and would give anyone the shirt off his back.”

Similarly, Coach Fry asserts: “Jo understood wrestling: he was not the most polished wrestler, but he sure was tough. You could never break Jo. He was half Tony Ramos – he’d stare you down – and half Yanni Diakomihalis, because he made friends with foes and teammates alike.”

“My favorite part about wrestling is to be able to socialize with people,” states Josiah in the Flo video. “I get to meet new people from around the country. I am also really close with my friends and teammates back home; they’re like my brothers – AJ, Christian, and Wyatt just to name a few. Those are the people who got me here ready to compete at this moment. They drill me at 110% – beast mode – they stay active pushing me to my best.”

Loss at such a young age by any means is especially tough when one knows JoJo as his peers did. Janelle comments: “It’s true when they say it takes a village to raise a child. His teammates and coaches never gave up on him – they knew he was going to make it somewhere in life.”

Speaking for himself and many others, Noah proclaims: “I don’t understand why someone who had so much going for him could go away so soon. It makes you cherish every moment.” Coach Bravo summarizes JoJo’s impact: “He still teaches us now: how to rebound from adversity to fight through another day.”

For team mom Shauna Fry, JoJo was part of the family. “He was always so grateful for his opportunities. Jo and Wyatt, being so close and competitive, were like brothers. Every birthday, October 4th, I’d make cupcakes (he insisted that they be homemade), then bring them to the Grindhouse practice to celebrate with his twin sister Jade. I think I will always make cupcakes on October 4th in JoJo’s honor.” 

Now for each wrestler, coach and parent, there speaks an unspoken but deeply felt directive. It compels every individual to keep the best of JoJo alive in their actions, in their attitudes, and in their accomplishments. Ultimately, JoJo was here to instruct each of us in the art of living: “I am thankful for each moment. I just like to learn.”

Josiah ‘JoJo’ Armstrong: A Mother’s Perspective

By Janelle Sustiguer

It truly touches my heart to see how much Josiah has touched so many lives outside and within the wrestling community. Josiah is very special on and off the mat. His older brother James, Jr. also wrestles and he has a twin sister Jade.

Josiah has never been afraid to tell you what’s on his mind; he’s very outspoken and honest. Josiah has this energy: all the kids gravitated to him and everyone loved being around him. He is very sarcastic and funny and like any young boy loved those video games. His characteristics made him lovable, brave, smart … and that smile just melts my heart.

With his academics, he is very intelligent, a straight-A student who always made sure his homework was done at school, so he didn’t have to do it at home. He wanted to know everything and sometimes would educate us adults on things we don’t think of on a daily basis. He didn’t love just wrestling but also other sports. He just had that drive to get it right and win, whether it’s a wrestling match or practice at the basketball hoops and making every single shot.

He loved helping the youth wrestlers and being that role model for them, because he always looked up to his older brother James, Jr. He liked to help coaching the youth wrestlers during a match and/or just sitting on the side cheering them on. I remember when he and his brother started first wrestling; he loved that headlock and he could bridge longer than any other kid during practice. 

For any of the RMN tournaments he and his brother attended, I remember the dedication they had if they needed to cut weight, to watching them wrestle some of the toughest kids in their bracket. He would tell me how he wanted the tall trophies and/or medals and he wasn’t leaving any tournament without one. He was also proud to be a part of Tri-Titans. He knew the expectations to be a part of it; I felt that commitment helped him mentally, to rethink things before reacting and to do better in school.  Each match he had you could feel the energy; he had the look on his face that he was ready to win. 

I watched his last tournament, the Monster Match Nationals this past November, where he made a bet with his coach that if he won the championship, he could have a sandwich. Well, he won that finals match and his coach threw him that sandwich. He took a bite of it before he had his hand raised but also apologized to the ref for doing that.

Throughout his wrestling, he has had a few upset losses, but that didn’t stop him from getting better and wanting to do better. For that, I can’t thank his dad, his brother, his practice partners, and coaches from Grindhouse and Sunnyside enough. They never gave up on him … they knew he was gonna make it somewhere in life.

It’s true when they say it takes a village to raise a child. He’s truly missed and I couldn’t be more proud to be his mother.

Mother Shauna Fry: "This is the day JoJo passed. He is forming 'J-O' with his hands. I am so proud of my son Wyatt because he persevered through all he felt to earn the last part of the Triple Crown."

WYATT FRY & JOSIAH ARMSTRONG (Freak Show Medalists) - Grindhouse Teammates for Life

Father James Armstrong proudly raising his RMN champion sons - Josiah (L) & James Jr. (R)

Jade & James Jr. Armstrong - holding plaque of 7-14-19 WIN Magazine JoJo article

Coach Bret Fry (Grindhouse AZ) with [L-R] Josiah Armstrong, Wyatt Fry (Tulsa Champ), & Christian Castillo

Coach Bret Fry & Josiah

ARMSTRONG FAMILY (L-R) - James Jr., Josiah, Jo's twin sister Jade, Mom Janelle

WYATT FRY & JOSIAH ARMSTRONG - Grindhouse Teammates for Life

COACH CHRIS ZASA with Josiah (L) & James Jr. (R) Armstrong