The Star-Herald

Washburn man medals at world wrestling championships

WASHBURN, Maine  — A trip that began with plenty of negatives ended in triumph for a local wrestler.

Sixty-four year-old James “Chico” Hernandez of Washburn, who is the varsity wrestling coach at Caribou High School, traveled to the African city of Casablanca in Morocco to compete in the World Masters Sambo Championships Oct. 20 and 21. He competed in the 60-64 age division in the 100 kilograms-and-over weight division and came away with a bronze medal, but it did not come easily.

“The trip did not go off smoothly at first,” said Hernandez. “The registration was tough for me because it was conducted entirely in Russian and Arabic. They almost did not let me weigh in because of the language barriers.”

Hernandez explained that as the only representative from the United States, he did not have a coach or liaison to help him find out where he appeared on the bracket and who his first-round opponent was. John Clarke, the British Sambo Federation president who is a friend of Hernandez, stepped in and had his national team coach, Colin Carrot, serve as his coach.

Volodymyr Ivanenko of Ukraine handed Hernandez an 8-0 loss in the opening match. Ivanenko is a four-time World Masters Sambo silver medalist and was a member of the 1990 USSR Powerlifting Team.

“He could bench press over 600 pounds and tilted the scales at 325, while I weighed in at 245,” Hernandez said, “so it was a tough draw.”

Hernandez had other factors working against him, such as not having the correct color uniform or proper Sambo shoes that were required for his next match due to having lost luggage on the trip over. He had to scurry and ended up borrowing boots from Lee Carrot, a member of the British team and the coach’s son, and was loaned a red jacket by German team member Peter Rebscher.

Still, Hernandez did not make it on time for the match check-in and was penalized three points.

“You do not spot fighters a three-point lead at the world championship level,” Hernandez said. “My thoughts were now sinking even deeper as I thought of all the time, training money and efforts of this mission, but I was still not going to quit and I gave my best.”

What happened next was improbable. With a minute left in the match and still trailing 3-0, Hernandez used a combination move to put his opponent, Sakhtan Bekpeiisuly of Kazakhstan, on his back for a 20-second hold down pin that allowed Hernandez to take a two-point lead. Despite Bekpeiisuly’s attempts to take down Hernandez in the final seconds, the match ended at 5-3 as the horn sounded.

“Everybody in the arena was cheering for me, all countries in different languages,” Hernandez said. “It was truly a Rocky-like comeback and even the refs were clapping for me as they raised my hand in victory for the bronze medal.

“I always tell the young wrestlers I coach that you don’t know until you try and do your best and this was a time I needed to practice what I preach,” he added. “I was flying high knowing I was walking out of Africa with a world medal that I could bring back to the USA.”

Hernandez has been part of 12 national teams and is a member of the AAU National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He has accumulated 53 international titles in freestyle wrestling, folkstyle wrestling, submission grappling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Sambo.

Three hundred wrestlers representing 30 countries competed in the tourney in Morocco.

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