John Orozco: Why Olympic Star Is a True Inspiration

Marilee Gallagher@mgallagher17Contributor IIJuly 24, 2012

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 30:  John Orozco competes on the rings during day 3 of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team Trials at HP Pavilion on June 30, 2012 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For the 19-year-old gymnast and Team USA phenom John Orozco, making his way to the Olympic stage was not an easy task. From the dangerous life around in him in the Bronx to his family needing to work extra jobs just to get him the money to train at a local gym, Orozco has proven that he truly is a fighter.

Orozco was just seven years old when his father signed him up for free gymnastics lessons. In the 12 years since then, no one, not even Orozco himself, knew that these lessons would begin the making of an Olympian.

Like for most of the children growing up with Orozco, the Bronx was not always a safe place. Several times, Orozco and his brothers had to fight off attackers. In some cases, these attackers wielded weapons.

Still, Orozco never allowed any of the danger to get to him. He had a goal in mind and continued to excel at gymnastics, which kept him away from the gang scene in his neighborhood.

It wasn't until Orozco was a teen that he realized gymnastics was more than just a hobby. In an interview with People, Orozco recalled the moment when he realized just what he wanted from gymnastics, saying, "Around 13 years old I realized I really wanted to get serious. So that's the time when I knew, 'Okay, I gotta turn my dreams into a goal.'"

Making this decision was an easy one for Orozco, as he knew that a future in gymnastics was what he wanted. The problem, however, came down to finances. The gym Orozco in which wanted to train cost more money than his family could afford. It was also 30 miles away from the family's home in the South Bronx.

It was then that his family, seeing his dream and what it could mean for his future, made the ultimate sacrifice. Both of his parents and all four of his brothers joined Orozco as employees at the gym, all to raise enough money for John to train there.

For John, training at the gym in Chappaqua marked the turning point. It was there that his coaches began to discover his true potential: He had the talent to compete on the national stage.

Only two short years after joining World Cup Gymnastics, the 15-year-old Orozco entered into the U.S.A. Junior National Championships and took home medals in all but one gymnastic discipline, including gold in the horizontal bar, parallel bars and still rings. He also won the all-around gold.

As the junior champion, he was named to the U.S. Junior National Team.

With the team, Orozco had the opportunity to compete in his first international event. In 2008, he represented the U.S. in the Pacific Rim Championships, where he helped the team win gold with strong performances all around. He also defended his national title, taking home three individual golds and the all-around title and medaling in every event except the floor exercise.

In 2009, Orozco absolutely dominated the junior scene. His best showing was at the U.S. Junior Nationals. There, he took home the all-around title for the third consecutive year, making him one of few gymnasts in U.S. history to win every Junior Nationals he competed in. Orozco earned six gold medals, winning every event with the exception of the vault.

After these showings, 17-year-old Orozco forfeited his NCAA eligibility, as he was focused on going pro and training for the opportunity to represent the U.S. in the Olympics.

In 2011, he represented the U.S. at the World Gymnastic Championships and even helped the team to a bronze medal. He was consistent throughout the tournament, finishing fifth in the all-around. It was also in this year that Orozco participated in his first Senior Nationals, after being injured the year before. He won a silver and three bronzes, including the third-place finish in the all-around.

In 2012, Orozco once again went into the National Championships seeking gold. A relative unknown, he competed toe-to-toe with Danell Leyva, another U.S. Olympian. Both were spectacular throughout, earning final scores that the U.S. Selection Committee estimate will be good enough for podium finishes.

In the end, however, a masterful performance on his most challenging event, the floor exercise, propelled him to his first U.S. National Championship on the senior level. He came in second at the U.S. Olympic Trials to Leyva, but it was good enough for him to secure an automatic berth to the Olympics.

Orozco's rags-to-riches story is one that Americans have come to love. He is an underdog, having overcome his tough life.

For anyone who feels they can't escape their upbringing or financial situation, Orozco's story teaches that anything can be overcome. For little boys growing up in the Bronx or other bad neighborhoods, Orozco is a hero and a true fighter.

Thankful and endlessly grateful, Orozco has said that his goal is to get his family out of the Bronx and move them to Colorado so they can live close to where he lives and trains. 

On top of that, there is now another family, a band of brothers, cheering on Orozco and his U.S. teammates. In an interview with the Associated Press, two-time U.S. champion Jonathan Horton said, "He doesn't know how to lose. He doesn't have a weakness. He's just a phenomenal gymnast. The one thing is, he gets in a zone and you can't break it."

Going into London, Orozco will be heading up a team of gymnasts featuring Horton and Leyva that is arguably one of the deepest for the U.S. in recent memory. It is a team that has a legitimate shot to win a gold.

If the goal is accomplished, then it will mark the first time since 1984 that the U.S. has taken home the team gold.


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