Summit middle schooler P.J. Trujillo wrestles to state final 19 years after his father wrestled to state title
Living in Leadville, the quest to become the best wrestler he can be is not easy for Summit Middle School student P.J. Trujillo.
Lucky for him, his father Patrick lived this same grind two decades ago.
Twice a week, Trujillo and his father Patrick drive the 113 miles from their home in Leadville to practices with the Bear Cave wrestling club at Prairie View High School in Henderson. There, the 85-pound wrestler Trujillo can grapple with the state’s best young wrestlers, many of who are his friends despite the fact that they live hours apart.
The Bear Cave’s wrestlers come from beyond state lines too, as the club’s founder and coach Ben VomBaur — a two-time NCAA Division I All-American in his own right — has attracted top talent from Wyoming and Nebraska to train at Bear Cave.
For P.J. and Patrick, the sacrifice of long, arduous drives — sometimes in blinding snow — in the family’s Volkswagen Jetta is worth it. For the father-son duo, sacrificing time and miles is the life they know, as Patrick himself was once a High Country wrestling hero in his own right.
Two decades after his peak accomplishment on the mat, Patrick sees even more special attributes and potential in P.J., short for “Patrick Junior.”
“I didn’t wrestle in college,” Patrick said. “There was only so much I could do, and that’s why I said to P.J., ‘let’s go a little further.’”
Back in 1999, Patrick Trujillo was a state champion wrestler at 112-pounds out of Leadville at Lake County High School. And as his son, who’s now approaching high school-age, has the same zest for wrestling, Patrick believes in one competitive mantra above all others for young P.J.
“Iron sharpens iron,” the father said.
Much like his father, young P.J. Trujillo is a state championship competitor wrestling out of a High Country region that is known much more for its skiing stars than wrestling wunderkinds. But that hasn’t stopped Trujillo from pursuing his passion.
This spring, he advanced through the 34-wrestler Colorado Super State Tournament’s 85-pound middle school division and finished as the runner-up for the state championship.
It was an elite-level accomplishment for Trujillo, as the annual Colorado Super State tournament for middle schoolers combines wrestlers from different school sizes, unlike high school competitions.
At the annual end of March tournament held at the Western National Stock Show Arena in Denver, Trujillo picked up pinfall decisions in his first three matches, which advanced him to the semifinals.
And it was in that third match — the semifinal match — where Trujillo achieved the peak wrestling moment of the year that his father Patrick was most proud of.
Going up against Centauri Middle School’s Mario Vigil in that quarterfinal round, Trujillo mounted a sudden comeback to avenge an earlier season loss to Vigil. Several months earlier, while wrestling for the Summit Tigers middle school team at their first tournament of the year down in Buena Vista, Trujillo lost to Vigil by just one point. Down at the Western National Stock Show Arena, Trujillo received his chance at redemption.
“I get goose bumps thinking about that match,” Patrick said.
Trujillo began the quarterfinal match well, up on points with technical wrestling maneuvers. But then Vigil maneuvered Trujillo into a move called a “banana split,” where Vigil was “basically pulling my legs apart,” as P.J. put it.
“It’s so hard to get out of and defend,” P.J. said.
Then with 30 seconds left in the second round, as Vigil had Trujillo down on his back earning technical points, Trujillo broke the lock. He then stepped over Vigil and reversed the hold before pinning him flat on his back with one second left.
“We were in a weird scramble position,” P.J. recalled. “I came out on top, and was kind of laying on him straight and then hooked his legs in. He had his legs out toward me , and I put my legs under and hooked both of them, and squeezed that way so he couldn’t get out.”
P.J.’s upset win meant Vigil was the only regional champion to not receive a medal as one of the tournament’s top-six podium finishers. It also advanced P.J. to the semifinals, where after three pinfall victories he defeated Titus Juergensen of Walt Clark High School by a 7-4 decision.
The four single-elimination tournament victories over two days led Trujillo to the state championship match, a showdown versus his fellow Bear Cave club team teammate William Moneypenny.
The championship match was a grind, and in the end Trujillo fell by a 4-0 decision to his friend Moneypenny. It was a tough one to swallow for the prideful P.J. But in the wake of the defeat, Patrick took solace in the fact that he believes his son has consistently learned one of life’s most important lessons thanks to the humbling one-on-one competition that is wrestling: In life, you lose sometimes. And it’s about how you handle getting back up off the mat.
“It’s not easy to lose. It drains you,” Patrick said. “But P.J. has been in the heat of battle, he’s been in big matches and lost and kept going. He understands the bigger picture and realizes how well he did.”
It’s a fatherly sentiment echoed by the son.
“He’s taught me really good moves,” P.J. said of his father, “like takedowns that I use a lot, a high-crotch and a double-leg. But he’s really helped me that he’s taught me how not to give up like I used to after I lost a match. To not let it affect me because it will get me used to being down on myself. And you’ve got to be positive with yourself to win a match and not overthink it. Just go out there and wrestle, leave it on the mat and have fun with it.”
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