In 2010, he and his family were near the end of their vacation in Great Britain when Escobar, on a whim, stopped in a crowd and a made a loud declaration to a group of strangers.
“I was over by the London Eye,” he said. “I jumped up on the riverside by the ledge and I remember throwing my hands out and yelling, ‘London, I’ll be back in 2012.’ People were looking at me like I had three heads. My family looked at me a little funny too and I said, ‘I’m going to make the Olympics.’”
The former Rocky Point standout has done just that.
In March, Escobar made the finals of the FILA Pan American Olympic Freestyle Qualifier in Florida to punch his ticket to the London Games, for Honduras.
The feat didn’t go unnoticed as Escobar received plenty of attention upon returning to the Central American country, where he lived for several years as a young child.
“It was really big,” he said. “Honduras is a small country of only about 8 million and everyone reads the newspapers. People on the streets would notice me or point at me. I was thinking, wow, this is not like the US for a wrestler. The people love their country so much, they are so excited that Honduras will be represented.”
The representation holds special meaning, because when Escobar commences competition at 55 kg on August 10, he will be the first-ever Olympian for Honduras in the sport of wrestling.
How did Brandon Escobar, a relative newcomer to the sport who spent most of his life in New York become the inaugural Olympian for Honduras?
A simple e-mail made all the difference.
Escobar moved to Suffolk County in time for kindergarten, and despite not starting to wrestle until 8th grade, picked up the sport quickly, earning All-County honors three times and placing at the state tournament twice (fourth in 2008 and third in 2007).
After graduating from high school, he practiced with the college team at Morrisville for a short while, but said he “saw no future” there and moved back to Suffolk, where he attended some classes before entering a competition that changed his path.
“I saw an ad for the FILA Junior Nationals,” he said. “When I thought about it, it seemed like a good idea to go. First, because going to Vegas would be awesome. But second, I really like wrestling Freestyle and Greco.”
So he ventured to Sin City and came back with an impressive haul – a first place finish in Freestyle and a runner up spot in Greco. Adding to his excitement was an encounter he had with Henry Cejudo, a recent Olympic gold medalist, at the event.
“I remember watching [Cejudo] on TV at the Olympics and thinking how great it would be to be there someday,” Escobar said. “He was everyone’s favorite wrestler at that point and on the last day in Vegas, he was there, talking to people. I asked him to sign the plaque I won at the FILA Juniors and he was cool with it. He told me he only had a few of those. I think that’s where it started for me. I wanted to reach the goal he achieved at the Olympics.”
Escobar’s prowess in the international styles earned him an invitation to train at the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) in Manhattan. He competed in tournaments in various locations, honing his craft. However, in the ultra-competitive 55 kg class in the United States, Escobar knew it would be a tough battle to win a berth to the London Games. Knowing he had dreams of Olympic glory, one of his coaches suggested that he consider wrestling for Honduras, a recommendation that Escobar was unsure about at first.
“I didn’t know they had a wrestling team,” Escobar said. “I had to go onto the FILA website and check that they did. The name of the wrestling coach was there and I figured I would send an e-mail. I thought, what was the worst thing that could happen?”
What did happen was that the coach contacted Escobar with a high level of interest. Before he knew it, Escobar was headed to Central America to train with his new national squad, from January to May of this year.
Escobar worked mostly with the team’s 60 and 66 kg wrestlers, since there weren’t any others in his weight class.
“Those six months made a huge difference,” he said. “I got bigger and developed a lot. Everyone outweighed me by 10 or 20 pounds, which was a valuable experience. I had more technique but they had experience from a lot of traveling. They came up with stuff from pure imagination and used their strength really well. It showed me that there are no boundaries to wrestling and opened my mind up more to think differently when I wrestle.”
He certainly kept his goals high.
At the Olympic Training Center in Honduras, he had to walk through a museum-like area to get to his room.
“Every day, I walked past this place with medals from different athletes,” he said. “I saw one for Athlete of the Century. I told the security guard that I wanted to get that one.”
When asked what the key elements would be to reach that award or any other, Escobar immediately mentioned “strength”.
Strength is an important word for Escobar, as it not only signifies physical strength but that of his family, his supporters and his dreams. The word is featured prominently on the T-shirts he sells and it is tattooed on his right bicep. How that ink got there is a story Escobar tells with a laugh.
“I was at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and I forgot a toothbrush,” he said. “I was going to buy one but the tattoo place was on the way and I decided on the spur of the moment to go in. I wanted to get a tattoo of something that emphasized my wrestling and how my life has gone. I felt my strength is something that has helped me out and will always be there for me. Right after I got the tattoo, I panicked about how I would explain it to my parents. And I totally forgot about the toothbrush.”
When he returns from London, Escobar plans to add another tattoo – of the Olympic rings, signifying not only the 2012 experience but his plans to be part of the Olympics again in the future.
“I’ve really only had six months of international wrestling experience,” he said. “I’m looking forward to stepping out on the mat in front of the whole world. Once I’ve wrestled in the Olympics, any national or international tournament will seem like no problem. I’m excited to get a taste of the experience this time and then I’m looking to be there again in 2016 and maybe even 2020. Wrestling is the most natural thing for me, it frees my mind and is my life away from life. I want to do it for a long time.”
He’ll proudly continue to compete for Honduras. But he’ll also be competing for several others.
“My support group and fans constantly send me messages and fuel my fire to succeed,” he said. “My mom (Angela Costanzo) and dad (Manuel Jesus Escobar) have always been supportive and I can’t thank all of my family enough. There are so many more people who are helping me like Jeremy Paul at Long Island Strength and Conditioning and there are so many coaches who have played such a big role. My high school coach Darren Goldstein, my NYAC Coach Nick Catana, my Cadet National Coach Anthony Ciolino. I am thankful to more people than I can mention.”
Besides coaching, Ciolino designs singlets and is involved in developing the uniform Escobar will wear in London. But while competing, Escobar said he will also be thinking about another singlet that he wore back in his high school days.
“I bleed Section XI — it’s where I came from and it got me to the point where I am now,” he said. “You have to work so hard to beat all that great talent; that’s what gave me what I needed to get ahead. I knew what I needed to do to get to the top. Wherever I am, I’ll always be representing Suffolk County.”
Two years ago, Escobar told unsuspecting Londoners they would see him again in 2012. In just a few days, Brandon Escobar will make good on his promise as the world watches.
Special thanks to Nancy Troisi for her assistance and photos.