4th time’s a charm for state champion
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
As Ryan Gallegos had his right hand raised in victory, three years of torment vanished.
Three second-place finishes at the state wrestling tournament are suddenly a distant memory.
Ryan may have had more pressure on his young shoulders than anyone who stepped onto the mats at the Colorado State Wrestling Tournament last Saturday. Ryan was going for the Class 3A 145-pound title at the Pepsi Center.
Second place at state is a fantastic accomplishment. But three of them, gets to be a bit overwhelming.
Ryan’s dad and head coach, Rick Gallegos, summed it up best.
“I was never disappointed in him. In my book he was always a champ and he will always be a champ. For him to finally feel it for himself is just unbelievable,” Rick said, then he smiled.
It was a smile four years in the making. A smile packed with equal parts jubilation and relief.
Ryan Gallegos state champion. A title four years in the making. It’s hard to imagine that any of the other 55 Colorado state champions could feel any more satisfied than Ryan Gallegos.
State wrestling creates legends and has a storied history. The legends are the ones who have won three or four titles in their careers.
But has there ever been a four-time second place competitor?
Who knows. The only thing that we know is that Ryan Gallegos buried all the conversation about him.
The Grand Valley senior summed up what the last four years, and the culmination of finally winning a high school title is all about.
“It’s such a relief to not have to go through that again. It was a great life experience, but one of the worst experiences I’ve ever been through,” he says. Then he smiles.
Of course there are no guarantees in high school sports. Of course a fourth second place was a possibility. Ryan pinned his first three opponents, and won the championship match 4-0 over Olathe’s Kris Nieto. As the referee blew the final whistle, Ryan raised his arms to the sky and thrust his index fingers into the air.
Number 1 – state champ – finally!
Both Ryan and Rick were tired of hearing the talk about close but not quite. They didn’t like the cliche “man on a mission.”
The two never talked about the second-place history this season.
“Never, ever did we talk about it,” Rick said sternly in-between hugs from family and friends. “Every now and then I would throw out a ‘this is your time, just keep doing what you’re doing, you know how to get ready for it,’ but that was it.”
Rick’s smile would come and go, each time growing a little bit larger.
“Ryan finished with a bang. He went undefeated [41-0]. That’s putting the exclamation point on the previous years of not making it to the top,” he said.
Like the cliche or not – Ryan Gallegos was on a man on a mission.
Mission accomplished, with an exclamation point.
But there were doubts. How could there not be. Three second places create doubt and pressure that no one can comprehend.
Ryan stayed positive as he methodically dismantled every one of his opponents in the 145-pound division. Then he arrived at his Everest. The single mountain he’d failed three times to conquer.
Would it happen again? Would he not stand atop the highest point in high school wrestling?
“Right before the match, I was saying I don’t ever want to go through that again because that feeling is just terrible,” Ryan said, still looking a little dazed. “Knowing that you were so close but still not there.
“Everyone talks about it and it just eats in the back of your mind,” he said. “And to finally do it, now it’s all gone out of my life.”
Dad had doubts too.
“I had to fight through them. I had this belief, that if I believe it long enough that it’s not going to happen,” he said about the title. “How will it be if Ryan, for a fourth time, doesn’t get his hand raised? How am I going to deal with it? How am I going to help him get through it.”
Then that smile returns. “And now I don’t have to worry about it.”
The pressure was an ever present companion for Rick and Ryan. It wasn’t fair, but that’s what three silver medals can do to you.
There’s no doubt that this was a special father-son effort.
“He’s been coaching me since I was 3 years old, so it wasn’t just me who did it, we both did it. He built me up to this moment,” Ryan says.
“We never talked about those second places,” Ryan added. “We just talked about putting in more work so I could be where I’m at right now.”
And that’s why finally getting that gold is so satisfying, so special, so powerfully thrilling. And yes, such a relief.
“I’m just so thankful that we got that monkey off both of our backs,” Rick says. “I got tired of talking about it. People kept saying this is Ryan’s year, this is Ryan’s year – don’t talk to me about that. We’ll go through the year and we’ll see if we make it. If it happens, it happens.
“Now,” Rick says with the biggest smile yet. “Now, we can talk about it.”
Now people can talk about Ryan as a Colorado state wrestling champion.
“Words can’t describe the way I feel right now. It’s amazing,” Ryan says.
All the talk is over. Words are not needed to describe this moment.
It’s the smiles that crystallize this moment. The smiles and a gold medal four long years in the making.
No more silver linings or silver medals. This moment and memory is as golden as they come.
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