GRIFFITH | Angel Escobedo walked into a packed Bridges Scoreboard Restaurant on Saturday night to a standing ovation.
Family, friends — even strangers — came up to hug, kiss or high-five the Griffith native and star wrestler during a surprise party to celebrate his fifth-place finish at the 2013 World Wrestling Championships in Budapest, Hungary this past week.
“This is what motivates me and pushes me — my family and the support I get. Forget the medals — I want them – but I love bringing everybody together,” Escobedo said. “I was in Hungary for 20-some days. No Internet, no (cell) phone service. I had a dozen family members there with me. And you know what? No matter how I do, they will love me the same.”
Escobedo’s showing at the Worlds was impressive, considering he got a five-days notice that he was stepping into the 55 kg spot (121-pound class) for the United States team. Obe Blanc, the country’s top-ranked 121-pound freestyle wrestler, failed a drug test following the U.S. World Team Trials in June, so Escobedo — who has been back and forth with Blanc over the years and is ranked second in the country — took full advantage of the opportunity.
Considering Escobedo has had his share of bad luck, it was almost destiny the spot opened up. A four-time state champ at Griffith and NCAA champion at Indiana, Escobedo has endured two shoulder surgeries (both sides), and on Jan. 9 — while he was getting ready to leave for a tournament in Russia — he broke his left foot. Two surgeries and three months later he was able to get back out on the mat.
“I’m going for 2016 (Olympics) for sure,” Escobedo said. “It’s funny because I hear, ‘Where’s Angel been?’ I’m still here. That same dream since I was a little boy in Griffith is still there, the hunger is still there. Now I’m pressed against the wall and I’m out to prove I can do it.”
Escobedo, who resides and trains for USA Wrestling in Columbus, Ohio, couldn’t help but smile and admire all the people who showed up to support him Saturday. He also was relieved the decision to eliminate wrestling from the Olympics was overturned. Wrestling is back and hopefully back for good.
“I was crushed when I heard the news because wrestling has done so much for me and my family,” Escobedo said. “I’m a kid with roots in Gary, Indiana and to be recognized in the world is amazing. We’ve had six kids from our family wrestle in the Big Ten. It’s crazy how much wrestling has done for us. We could never give back to wrestling what wrestling has given us.”