Everyone wants to hear from well known, well recognized Athletes, but I find the most interesting and compelling testimonials to be from little known Stanford Wrestlers. So here goes my story…
My father introduced my brothers and I to wrestling when I was in fourth grade. It was a way to get his boys into athletics and give us something constructive to do. My father grew up with little athletics and only wrestled for one year. For several years I remember participating in four sports each year; football, wrestling, baseball, and swimming. Although we enjoyed other sports, we developed a love for wrestling in particular. I believe it is the individual aspect and the nature of the sport which we all loved. An individual’s hard work shows clearly in wrestling and one does not have to depend on other individuals for their own success, but at the same time the sport has a unique camaraderie to it, as others have put it; a family feeling.
Our father was one of our first coaches and was very involved throughout our Youth. I can remember piling up in our family station wagon with 8 to 10 other youth wrestlers and traveling to Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and Oklahoma to wrestle in youth tournaments. We always had room for others who wanted to travel with us and my family always seemed to find a way to make the trips happen through fund raising, carpooling and getting help from others.
As years passed, we continued to participate. My older brother started high school and continued to wrestle first on JV and then on varsity. A couple of years later I started high school and became a varsity starter as a freshman. It was almost magical. Most of the team had been participating together for many years in the youth program and we were wrestling together high school. The team was very good. My school was not known for its athletic programs and had NEVER won a state championship in any athletic program. My freshman season the team won the school’s first state championship…in wrestling. This was a special accomplishment for many reasons. My high school was (is) primarily Hispanic / Mexican American with over 50% of its student body living below the poverty level. Everyone received free lunch. Many families, like mine, came from a semi-rural background. Our family kept cows, horses, pigs, chickens etc. The high school was also classified as “needs help academically.”
I did very well academically and started to look at the possibility of continuing my education after high school, which was rare not only in my family, but in my community. My grandfather finished second grade, my mother received a high school diploma and my father completed just a few classes beyond high school. My older sister attended UNM but lived at home during her studies. Going out of state to a “well known” university seemed to be out of reach. I can remember my HS counselor telling me, “don’t set your goals too high, you might be disappointed.” That bit of “advice” just fueled my desire to succeed at attending a great university. I looked at the options and Princeton, MIT, and Stanford came to the top of the list for obvious reasons. I set my goals academically and kept the hope of wrestling at the next level in the back of my mind.
I worked hard at my studies, something I attribute to the work ethic learned through my parents and wrestling experiences. Even though I did well academically, my test scores were never the best and by Stanford’s standards they were below average. Luckily, I had an exceptional teacher who helped me and others through our college application process. He helped us prepare, study, pre-test, and re-take SAT and ACT tests, as well as prepare the best college applications and essays that we could. In short, my high school career ended as a state runner up with a desire to continue my competitive career and an acceptance letter to Stanford.
The following year was exciting and extremely difficult for many reasons. My academics were deficient and California culture was completely different than my semi-rural New Mexico Hispanic culture. After walking on to the wrestling team, I felt like I was playing catch up in the wrestling room, too. I did what I have been doing most of my life; I worked long and hard until I began catching up. Along with working at my classes and wrestling, I also had to take on part time work to supplement my income and keep afloat financially. Being a little naive, I thought that was normal. After a while I came to realize that I was a minority in more than one way…ethnically being Hispanic, culturally and economically. Hell, I was a minority in stature, being 5’5” with black hair in an ocean of 6’+ people with light hair. This took some adjustment and acceptance on my part. The majority of my classmates came from affluent backgrounds, many from private schools. Driving a new sports car as an 18-year-old just did not happen in my home community.
I started to catch up both athletically and academically. Coach Chris Horpel was like another professor but full of encouragement and understanding. The room was full of great athletes, but what made it a great experience was the fact that the wrestlers in the room were all there because they LOVED the sport and the spirit of the team. Our team had NO full ride scholarships. Very few of the wrestlers received any kind of financial support.
During many conversations with classmates and teammates I discovered that livestock in the back yard is not a normal thing. That is what made our friendships great. Discovering one another’s backgrounds and experiences and sharing something of your culture with friends. I remember sharing pinon with my wrestling team during a trip and watching Geoff eat the pinon whole … shell and all. He said, “…that is terrible…how can you possibly eat that stuff?” I had to fight back the laughter as I told him that pinon (pine nuts) should be eaten like a sunflower seed, after you remove the shell.
I vividly remember our weekly (more or less) Horpel-isms with Coach Horpel. Some of the most memorable topics were being “tough-smart” – “tough-stupid” and “beverages.” These team meetings were life lessons and have stayed with me and others long after we left the “Farm”. I have in turn shared many of those life lessons with my own high school wrestling teams.
My college wrestling career had big highs and some big disappointments. I managed to make the varsity line up as a freshman. My first match I was thrown to my back in the first period and fought for two minutes. I lost the match, but did not get pinned. I won over 50% of my matches that year but ended the season with a separated shoulder at PAC-10’s. The next year I won a Division I tournament, but tore my ACL just in time for Christmas. This ended my season and eventually was part of the reason for my competitive career ending. I had two surgeries to “fix” my knee and was not able to realistically compete again until my senior year at Stanford. I spent a LOT of time in the training room doing rehabilitation and therapy. Academics remained my main focus, but I was always welcomed by my team in the wrestling room, whether I could train hard or simply support their efforts. My senior year I was able to compete for a position on the team again, but fell short in my efforts to make the line up. It was disappointing, but wrestling was not my center focus any longer. Completing my education and preparing myself to become a father, as my first son was on the way, became my main focus. As I like to tell others, life happened, with all its unexpected surprises. I believe the support I received from the Stanford Wrestling team and coaching staff helped me through the roller coaster ride. I still follow many of those life lessons and strongly believe that without them I would not have been able to overcome many of the setbacks I have encountered.
Since my time at Stanford, I have continued to be active in the sport of wrestling. I started as a high school assistant coach in Colorado. After moving back to New Mexico, I found myself as the Head Coach for my old high school’s youth program. Seven years later I took over as the high school coach. I was blessed with the opportunity to coach all five (5) of my children in the Rio Grande High School program. I must thank my one and only wife, Sonya, for being with me through this all. Rio Grande High School consisted of the same demographic as when I graduated in 1987. High Mexican/Hispanic with a high percentage of underprivileged. My first individual state champion was my son, Justin. My second son, Loren Jr. was a state runner-up and also a member of the school’s fourth state championship team (three being in wrestling). In my 12-year tenure Rio Grande produced one team state championship, seven top three finishes, ten district championships and many individual accolades including state champions and state place winners. My time as the Head Wrestling Coach was both rewarding and successful.
I have moved on to start a new second business on top of my family’s construction company that my brother, Juan, and I already manage. My wife and I are now busy growing hemp, extracting product and manufacturing CBD products as well as maintaining our former work positions.
I could not have led a team to such success without my own strong background in academics and athletics as well as the work ethic that my parents and wrestling has given me. As I look back the Stanford Wrestling team was my base of support during my time on The Farm, even when I was injured. I was always accepted and welcomed by my teammates and the coaching staff. Chris Horpel, Mark Martel, Grady Grissham, Steve Yarbarough, James Dinette (my primary workout partner), Jay Jackson, Geoff Baum, Lance Johnson, Josh Lisle, Ron (and Julie) Perry, Steve Buddie, David and Phil Nowick, Jerome Farmer and many others…great memories. Looking at the group I was around gives the impression that it was a training room for future leaders. Just a few examples (and I know there are many others): Steve Yarbarough – Federal Judge, Steve Buddie – Former Stanford Wrestling Head Coach, Ron Perry – High School Head Coach, Lance Johnson – High School Head Coach, Dr. David and Phil Nowick – Wrestling Coaches, James Dinette – Wrestling Coach and many others…, each stepping into the shoes of the coaches and leaders who gave us our opportunity and laying that foundation for the next generation.
I am now seeing that very same generational impact from Stanford Wrestling as I watch James Dinette’s son, Gabriel Dinette, become part of the Stanford Wrestling Tradition. And with Real Woods who I took to the USAW Southern Plains Regional Freestyle/Greco Roman Tournament when he was in Middle School as part of Team New Mexico in a fashion my Dad would have loved, piled in a bus with as many kids as wanted to go.
This Stanford Wrestling program is clearly having a positive impact on hundreds if not thousands of young lives through its coaches, student-athletes, and alumni.
That is why we must Keep Stanford Wrestling!
- Loren Vigil