Aaden Valdez – CO
Challenge Only Makes You Stronger
By Bill X. Barron – RMN Events Writer
For Pueblo East sophomore Aaden Valdez, a 5th-place finisher in Colorado State as a freshman and a Pan Am Schoolboy Greco silver medalist, he’s always known that wrestling “is all about the battle. We all win or lose eventually.” His father Zachary, coach of Aaden since he was three, is his biggest supporter as well as his most persistent challenger. Zach reminds us: “Wrestling does not teach discipline; it teaches self-discipline, the quality which allows each of us to do the sport we love.”
What neither Aaden nor Zach could predict is how the circumstances of life would reveal Aaden’s true character. Guided by what both wrestling and his own inner discipline revealed within him, Aaden has come to accept how a quirk of fate could inform him how to work even harder and to not take life’s gifts for granted. In July of 2017, just a week before he was to compete in Fargo to bring home a Greco medal for Team Colorado, a fireworks accident severed four fingers on his left hand and cost him the sight in his left eye. Yet the day the pins came out, Aaden was back in the wrestling room and the gym training six days a week.
Many times a competitor faces off against his or her own inner demons before he or she ever takes on an opponent across the circle. Aaden has quickly learned that “it’s still me out there. I cannot escape who I am. Instead I need to push through, to wrestle how I know to wrestle.” Some opponents make the mistake of perceiving his physical challenges as an advantage. As the son of a coach, Aaden is already one step ahead; rather than allow his hand or eye to be a limitation, Aaden requests his teammates to attack his right hand and approach him on the left side.
Inclined through his Greco training to attack the upper body, Aaden says “I was forced to be more creative.” He now uses his left hand to set up his underhook, to sink a tight waist, and to lead his spiral ride. In a recent tournament, Aaden lost a close 6-5 match to two-time defending 5A champion, Theorius Robison of Pomona. He says the key was wrestling to win: “I took the match to Theorius. I tried to keep him off-balance.” Aaden asserts that instead of wrestling to not lose, he will continue to risk being great.
Zach is proud of how Aaden “realized this situation was not going stop him. Aaden’s outgoing nature has helped him readjust. Everyone knows Aaden. His outreach is helping others push through difficulty. The whole wrestling community has come together to support us.” Aaden’s work ethic is such an inspiration that Denver East’s coach Randy Gallegos drove two hours several times this summer to instruct Aaden in the use of techniques that did not require a hand grip, such as leg riding. Likewise, Aaden’s strength-training coach has individualized special exercises which can be mastered by an adaptive athlete.
An ardent supporter of and participant in RMN Events, Aaden asserts that “RMN prepared me with really tough competition. Competing on a raised stage, it puts pressure on you to perform at a young age. Now it’s no longer scary, because I have been there, done that.” Coach Valdez adds: “Having that level of competition in our back yard, provides kids the opportunity to compete against the best. Ed Gutierrez and his family have been great supporters of the wrestling community.” After his accident, Aaden selected RMN-NUWAY’s Freak Show as his first test of action, competing in the high school elite division.
Now ranked second at 132 pounds in the 4A high school division, what’s most notable is that Aaden still loves the sport. As dad and coach, Zach learned “not to overpush Aaden; it was important that he wanted to wrestle for himself. I also taught Aaden to be mentally tough. After nine hours in surgery this summer, the first thing he wanted to do was wrestle. Yet he was worried about how colleges would see him. I told him to just go out and do what you know how to do. If you win, it will never matter.”
A wiser Aaden now states: “Instead of breaking me, this accident has built me up. It will not hold me back; it will not change who I am as a wrestler. Every day, I want to get better. I realize that I have potential. I have the mindset to be great.” Just the same, Aaden admits that “it’s been a struggle at times. I have learned to adapt through experience and mat time. It gives me positive motivation to improve not just my wrestling, but in all aspects of my life.”
In Spanish, La Gente means “for the people.” A forward-thinking Juan Madrid founded Pueblo’s La Gente, seeking to unify and elevate Hispanic youth through the vehicle of sports. As Zach relates: “Juan realized that kids are the future.” Now all-inclusive and representing many demographics, La Gente instructs youth in many athletic endeavors. But its signature sports – and the club’s foundation – are wrestling and boxing. Club and East teammate, fellow sophomore heavyweight Andy Garcia, is a defending state and national champion. Four nights a week, following his high school practice, you will find Aaden Valdez leading technique for the La Gente youth wrestling club.
At the recent Colorado USA Wrestling awards banquet to recognize this year’s national placers, Aaden received the Resilience Award, where was awarded a full scholarship to participate in the 2018 Cadet National Championships. As he has already learned at any early age, a missed opportunity simply provides time to be that much more prepared for the next challenge. For Aaden, his place in the national circle is just one year delayed.