Gracen Gonzalez is more than just a wrestler at Palmer Ridge.
He is the son of Ruben Gonzalez, the first athlete to compete in four different Winter Olympics in four different decades. He is also an aspiring aviator and emerging entrepreneur specializing in 3D printed designs, while being home schooled.
However, according to him, Gonzalez is first and foremost a Christian and a youth cult leader, who uses his sport to spread the gospel. He wrote on his headgear “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ”.
Part of the reason it’s on its head is a reminder to never back down, but also to give anyone who notices it a chance to start a conversation about Christianity. It was a topic of conversation during his time at the Pete and Ina Gomez Invitational at John Mall High School in Walsenburg last month, where he placed fourth and improved his record to 11-6.
“It’s just a conversation starter,” Gonzalez said. “If someone talks about it, I’m happy to talk about it with them. Ultimately, at the end of the day, the reason I struggle is to struggle, inasmuch as the reason is not to evangelize, but while I struggle, I have opportunities to evangelize. . It’s already started conversations for me, it’s so worth it and I think it’s just another way to open the door to someone’s life in this way.
Gonzalez’s wrestling background stems from a decade of training judo at the US Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. James Baumert, a 170-pound senior, convinced Gonzalez to join the wrestling team at Palmer Ridge. Over the course of three years, both athletes grew as the team grew.
“The team is totally different today than it was a few years ago,” Gonzalez said. “In first year we probably had eight wrestlers and now we have maybe 40. So it’s a totally different dynamic, but it’s really cool. The coaching staff is great. I like [head coach Jason Romero]. He is a very good coach, not only technically, but also very good at building character while caring about the sport.
Gonzalez placed fourth in the Class 4A Region 4 tournament last season as a 113-pounder. In a normal year, that would have been enough for a trip to the state tournament, but not in the COVID-shortened season. Only the gold and silver medalists in each weight class traveled to the United States that year.
“It’s been a pretty solid year,” Gonzalez said. “This year I’m looking to go in-state and rank relatively high. I’m not quite first, second or third tier but I can finish in the Top 8 if I have a good season. That would be therefore the goal.
Gonzalez started this season in the 120-pound class, but recently moved up to 126, which is a more natural weight for him. An added benefit to the reduced urge to lose weight was the extra energy boost he has in the third period, Gonzalez said. Besides technique, his main strength is stamina and his ability to stay balanced late in the match while his opponents are feeling fatigued.
“We win a lot of games because we are conditioned,” Gonzalez said.
At the John Mall tournament, Gonzalez faced Mancos’ Levi Martin, who is ranked No. 1 in 2A by On the Mat, in the semifinals. Gonzalez lost, but went the distance and took it as a positive sign that the conditioning he started enjoying is paying off.
“He beat me, but he didn’t pin me,” Gonzalez said. “It made me really happy mentally because if the first in state can’t pin me, then no one is going to pin me. In the future, if the best in state can’t do it, then why should I let someone else do it?
Gonzalez finds his cardiovascular endurance to be a valuable asset because, as wrestlers begin to lose energy late in the match, their technique and mental approach lags behind. It became an opportunity for him to hit and get the points or pin needed to win. His first win of the tournament came on a pin with nine seconds left in the match.
“We’re all trying to go out and do the same thing, but conditioning allows us to do more,” Gonzalez said.
When Gonzalez isn’t wrestling, he’s running a new business where he prints designs on a 3D printer and sells them on Etsy, an e-commerce site. He originally bought a 3D printer for his love of airsoft guns and remote control planes. Once he realized he could do anything with a 3D printer, he went shopping. Its prized product is a model jet engine.
“I want to be an engineer or a pilot,” Gonzalez said. “But I would like to have my own business. My dad runs his own business and it’s really cool. I love the challenge of building a business, both on the technical side to make it happen as best I can and on the business side. For me, it’s pursuing a passion.
Gonzalez started flying thanks to his father, who got his pilot’s license at a young age. He’s about to get his own pilot’s license — which should happen around the same time he graduates from high school.
“I’m a total airplane nerd now,” Gonzalez said.
Although in the middle of his freshman year, Gonzalez narrowed his college wish list to the Air Force Academy or Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
“It’s 50-50,” he said.
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