Being intimidated was new. Vougar Oroudjov said he didn’t remember feeling that way – even when competing on the biggest stages, such as the Olympics and the World Championships.
But earlier this week, at the Section 8 Dinner, Oroudjov, the head of Vougar’s Honors Wrestling (VHW), met his match.
“I was never scared like that before,” he said. “I went up to give a speech and I couldn’t say anything. All those people were looking at me. It was very different. But I had to give the speech. It was very important to me to give this award to [Syosset senior] Dan Choi.”
It wasn’t the only trophy of the evening for Choi, the 2013 195-pound New York State champion in Division I, who also collected several other accolades, including Nassau’s Most Outstanding Wrestler (Newsday and Friends of Long Island Wrestling), Navy ROTC Award, Matanna Family Scholarship and an NYSPHSAA All-Academic honor.
But the award Oroudjov spoke about was perhaps more valuable. Because what VHW gave Choi was a chance to finally go home.
“When I found out that Dan didn’t go to Korea to see his mother for two years, I felt terrible,” Oroudjov said. “With my Olympic dream, I traveled a lot – camps and tournaments. It was non-stop traveling. I always missed my family and friends. I know that feeling. So, we bought Dan a round trip ticket to go back to Korea to see his family for the first time in years before he goes to college at Cornell University.”
We detailed Choi’s amazing story of coming to the United States just three years ago without his parents and earning an ROTC scholarship to the Ivy League institution in Ithaca in this article.
However, that story was published before Choi’s tremendous run through the field at the Times Union Center to earn a state championship. But those victories in Albany aren’t what stand out most for Oroudjov. The title wasn’t the reason that he and Nebraska recruit Anthony Abidin held a clinic to raise some of the funds for Choi’s journey to Asia.
“He is just unbelievable,” Oroudjov said. “How many high school kids could do everything he has done without seeing their parents for two years? He works a job, he does great in school, he wrestles. We’ll go to tournaments and he always has such a heavy bag because he’s doing his calculus and other homework at the tournaments. He also has a lot of fun – we dance Gangnum style together after big wins. We’re going to miss him. He’s a great person to have around. He deserves all his awards but we needed to give him the award of going home.”
Choi wasn’t the only wrestler to come away from the event with hardware. State champions Kyle Quinn (Wantagh) and Louis Hernandez (Mepham) were also named to Newsday’s All-Long Island team, as was runner up Chris Koo of Great Neck South. Joining them on the squad were Suffolk grapplers Matt Leshinger (Sayville), TJ Fabian (Shoreham Wading River), Corey Rasheed (Longwood), Tyler Grimaldi (Hills West), Carlos Toribio (Brentwood), Michael Hughes (Smithtown West), Alex Tanzman (Westhampton Beach) and Nick Piccininni (Ward Melville). Piccininni was named Wrestler of the Year for the State of New York by WIN Magazine.
A true champion both on an off the mat, an inspiration to all.