What Was It Like to Be an Olympian? Brandon Escobar Talks About His London Experience

When we contacted Brandon Escobar, he was, not surprisingly, on his way to wrestling practice.  The 21-year old Suffolk County resident didn’t take much of a break after competing in the 2012 Olympics at 55 kg for Honduras. Now back in the United States, Escobar talks about stepping on the mat in London, sharing a meal with famous athletes and his plans for a long future in the sport.  For more on Escobar’s journey to make the Olympics, see here.

A big part of the Olympic experience is the Opening Ceremonies.  What was it like to be a part of that?

Brandon Escobar: It was really something else.  All of the hype about it made sense.  It was so exciting. I was taking it in, enjoying it.   But after that, it was all business. I wanted to enjoy my time, but I had my goal in mind.  I wanted to get a medal.

After the Opening Ceremonies, you had around two weeks until you competed.  What was your schedule like for that time?

Brandon Escobar: I stayed in London and trained with Team Cuba since I was the only wrestler from Honduras.  Cuba didn’t have anyone at my weight — they had mostly heavier guys so there was no issue with me working out with them.  It was great.  I felt that I was in great shape and ready to go.

Did you get a chance to see any of the other events during that time?

Brandon Escobar: I saw some of the events on TV.  My choice was to either go see an event or rest before my next practice. For me, it was easy to pick resting because I needed to be as ready for practice as possible. Wrestling is a sport where you need to be working harder than the next guy.  Hard work is a confidence booster for me – so to be able to work out 2-3 times a day made me feel better.  So I rested and watched the other sports and used it as downtime before the grind.  It was something I needed for myself.  I watched weightlifting, judo, a little basketball and soccer.  I really enjoyed watching the gymnastics – those girls are amazing.  Mostly, I had to stay focused on my own event.

Did you get to meet any other athletes or celebrities while you were there?

Brandon Escobar: I actually got to meet a lot of the USA men’s basketball team.  I was eating and found myself at the table with them.  I got to talk to LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, James Harding and Anthony Davis.   They were really cool people, good company.  It was cool to see people at that level be humble and just talk to everyone.  That really showed me something.  Even when they were eating, they were doing interviews and taking pictures with people.  They were so smooth about it, so nonchalant.  Everyone knows they’re great athletes but I saw that they were good people too.

After being in London for several weeks, you finally got to wrestle, against Mihran Jaburyan.  (The Armenian won in two periods).  What was it like to be on the mat at the Olympics?

Brandon Escobar: It was really interesting. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I didn’t know if I should be worried or wrestle cautiously.  But right before I walked out there, I just felt relaxed.  I’ve been doing this for so many years and I thought it would just be doing the same thing on a much bigger stage.  I wanted to beat the guy in front of me and show what I could do.  I went out and attacked and it was definitely a good experience.  Now I know what it’s like to wrestle at that level on that stage.

What’s next for you?  Are you taking any time off from wrestling or are you already back on the mat?

Brandon Escobar: I think I took four days off.  After I finished wrestling, I went out and had a little fun in London.  Then, there was the Closing Ceremonies night and the flight back.  I was really tired.  But the next day, I was back into training.  I haven’t stopped working out.  Right now, I’m running in the mornings, wrestling in the afternoons and lifting in the evenings.  I’ve been wrestling at Rocky Point, Eastport South Manor and anywhere that’s open and has a place for me to roll around.  That’s my day, every day.  I’ll also be working out at the NYAC and might go out to Penn State to the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club.

When do you next wrestle competitively?

Brandon Escobar: There are so many tournaments coming up. In a month, I’m going to Brazil for the first tournament. Then I’ll be in Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Cuba, Europe – all over the place.  I’ll also be in Hondruas every once in a while to stay in touch.  I’ve gotten so much help in Honduras and I’d like to promote the sport of wrestling there and make it bigger.

You wrestled freestyle in the Olympics.  Will you be focusing just in freestyle going forward?

Brandon Escobar: No, I want to do freestyle and Greco.  I want to do both styles at the next Olympics.   My goal right now is to get a gold medal at both styles at every level – the Worlds, Olympics, Pan Americans.

My plan is to go for another 10 years – through the 2022 World Championships.  That gives me two more Olympic cycles and a bunch of Worlds.  In this sport, I’m considered really young (21).  An infant.  There weren’t too many guys my age in Olympic wrestling. I want to see it through, wrestle through my prime, have fun and on top of it all, I want to be #1 in the world.

I understand you got another souvenir to remember the Olympic experience – a tattoo of the Olympic rings.

Brandon Escobar: I got it on my ribs about a week ago. I wanted it there because I knew it would hurt and I wanted it to be something that I remember.  It’s a pain I’m not going to forget just like I won’t forget my first Olympics.

Looking back, what was the best part of the Olympic experience?

Brandon Escobar: I would have to say just being there and being around amazing athletes and seeing the level that they are at.  I got to know what the unknown is a little bit.  I’m familiar with the environment and it will help me out in the future.  I can go the tournaments now with a chip on my shoulder and a new level of confidence.  I know where I have to be to get what I want.  I want to be the guy, to show what I can do.  I’m so fired up right now just thinking about it.

Brandon Escobar Ready to Represent Honduras (and Suffolk County) at the London Olympics

Brandon Escobar kept the promise he made two years ago.

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.