My journey through Stanford’s wrestling program began as a shoot for the moon type of dream when I was ten years old. My only brother had just begun wrestling for West Point and our sibling rivalry had me seeking a way to surpass him. I needed to find a school that was more prestigious than the top Military Academy of the strongest country in history and it had to have a wrestling program with scholarships available.
My parents were migrant field laborers until my father received the promotion of a lifetime to become a cotton picker mechanic. He worked tirelessly to provide for our family in hopes of achieving his own dream of becoming a farmer. During cotton harvest, there would be weeks we wouldn’t see him as he would come home long after we were asleep and would leave before we woke up. Over the years, all his sacrifices paid off when my parents finally saved enough money to buy 160 acres of land.
The school bus delivered me to the farm every day after school where I worked until it was time to go to wrestling practice, a new sport my father was intent on us boys trying. My brother and I excelled, as wrestling is a sport where you get out what you put in. Through no coincidence, we had inherited a tireless work ethic which served us well as we soon became local standouts. My father, who had never played sports growing up, lived vicariously through us and pushed us to succeed. As my brother was shipped off to West Point, I was left as the only remaining boy in our family of seven to help with the farm and be the focus of my father’s new fascination with wrestling.
My father and I commuted to practices out of town for better coaching and more competition. On car rides home, he would preach to me about all sorts of topics, namely about getting an education as he didn’t want me to work the way he had his entire life. It was around this time I found a school that was as prestigious as West Point and had a storied wrestling program: Stanford University. Knowing the high standards for entry, I poured myself into schoolwork and wrestling, determined to get the best grades while being a top-notch wrestler. My parents went as far as having me repeat eighth grade, despite having straight A’s, so that my body could mature further by the time I started high school. School, farm, and wrestling became my life’s focuses; as my cauliflower ear grew, so did my identity as a wrestler.
Just as I had seen my father achieve his goals through hard work and determination, my own dream became a reality when Steve Buddie of Stanford Wrestling reached out to me after I placed in the California state tournament my Junior year. He asked me to consider attending and wrestling for Stanford, something I had dreamed about for seven years by then. The only recruiting trip I took was to Stanford. The only school I applied to was Stanford. And the only school I was accepted to was Stanford. I remember telling my father with tears of joy, “We did it! We did it!” as I looked at his forced smile and the sadness behind his eyes.
The earth stood still as he explained the cost of tuition and how we couldn’t afford such a price. Turns out, farming is more than putting a seed in the ground and watering it, let alone doing it profitably. My hopes of financial aid were quickly doused as FAFSA informed me I didn’t qualify for aid. My dad, like many farmers, was asset rich but cash poor with loads of debt. Stanford offered me a small scholarship, but it was barely enough to pay for books. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. This wasn’t what I had dreamed.
I reflected back on our car rides and the stories my father had told me over and over again. When he had found the farm he wanted to purchase, he went to several banks seeking financing and banker after banker turned him away. With a steadfast resolve, he kept looking until the sixth bank where he found a banker who believed in him. I reminded my father of this story and asked him to believe in me the same way, he would be a hypocrite to refuse. He agreed to co-sign the loan I needed but stated I would be responsible for repayment and at any moment I dropped from the wrestling team or failed a class, he would pull me out of school. I was in.
Wrestling and school were my sole focus on what ironically is known as the Farm. Even when I failed to make the starting team my Freshman year, I wasn’t discouraged but emboldened to work harder. I took to the coaching and the lifestyle of Stanford Wrestling naturally, where hard work on the mat and in the classroom were the only expectations. I found a way to make it work for the love of a dream which was and is always Stanford Wrestling. It was the apple of my eye as a young kid and the best five years of my life shedding blood, sweat, and tears for the Cardinal. The focus and determination I learned through this journey will be with me my entire life, along with a degree from a more prestigious university than West Point. And the hope of having someone believe in you, even when all seemed lost, is something I live everyday in my career where I now work for the one bank that believed in my dad’s dream.
- Lucas Espericueta