At the age of 27, Torivio Gallegos signed a letter of intent to wrestle at Eastern Oregon
For many wrestlers, it's a rite of spring ... and a rite of passage: student-athletes signing a letter of intent to continue their academic and athletic careers in college.
Most of these signees are fresh-faced teenagers. There are exceptions ... such as Torivio Gallegos, an alumnus of Fruitland High School in Idaho who this spring signed a letter of intent to wrestle at Eastern Oregon University at age 27 ... and was the subject of a feature this week in the Argus Observer.
Over the years, InterMat has written about college wrestlers who don't fit into the traditional 18-22-year-old age group. Earlier this decade, we profiled Justin Decker, former University of Iowa wrestler who, as an assistant coach at Upper Iowa University, discovered he still had a year left on his college eligibility at age 33. Four years ago, we told you about Rick Chipman, the 44-year-old first responder/wrestling coach who decided to go back to college ... and get back to wrestling.
Then there are the guys whose college wrestling careers were delayed by military service. Oklahoma Sooner superstar Dan Hodge was a married father of an infant son, approaching his 25th birthday, when he won his third NCAA title in 1957 ... because he had served in the U.S. Navy immediately after graduating from high school.
Torivio Gallegos' situation is nothing like those described above ... because the 27-year-old who just signed that letter of intent has battled -- and seems to be beating -- a nearly decade-long addiction to opioids that resulted in multiple arrests, alienation from his family ... and, if that weren't enough, nearly cost him his marriage.
For Gallegos, signing with Eastern Oregon was the next chapter in his redemption.
This week, Gallegos' story was the subject of a 2,000-word feature article in the Argus Observer newspaper published Monday. Sportswriter Nick Steng tells the story of a high school wrestler who admits to being lazy in the classroom ... in the wrestling room ... and in competition. In his senior year at Fruitland High, Gallegos placed sixth in the IHSAA State Wrestling Tournament.
"I was a natural athlete who didn't work hard," Gallegos told Steng.
He had dabbled in drug use throughout his young life ... but, by age 19, started to be a steady user of opiates.
Gallegos managed to go cold turkey and remain clean. He even helped coach a local wrestling team ... until he slipped a disk in wrestling practice. About this time, he also had oral surgery for which he was prescribed opiate painkillers. The addiction began again. His wife, unaware of his past battles, threatened to leave him.
This time, Gallegos sought professional help. A local doctor gave him the expert guidance and counseling he needed to break this latest addiction. He also got the help of one of his middle school teachers who served as a mentor nearly a decade-and-a-half after being his instructor.
Gallegos also found redemption in wrestling.
He learned that Eastern Oregon University was bringing back its varsity wrestling program.
"Wrestling has been the only thing that was always consistent with my life," Gallegos told the Argus Observer's Nick Steng. "I'm vulnerable in many areas. But wrestling is not one of those."
Gallegos reached out to a friend who knew Eastern Oregon coach Dustyn Azure, who gave Gallegos a call. After listening to Gallegos' story, coach Azure told Gallegos he should come to the school for a tryout.
Upon arriving on campus, Gallegos was met with a surprise.
"Before we got in the wrestling room, he had the business director there and he wrote up the letter of intent right there," Gallegos said to Steng. "I don't get too excited about things. But, the thrill, it was like nothing I've ever felt before. I thought there was no way is this happening to me. It was beyond explanation."
Coach Azure figured bringing Gallegos onto the team would help his recovery ... while he got a college education.
As Azure told Steng, "Wrestlers are all goal-oriented and it's a sport that requires that discipline. And when you surround yourself with people like that it's just a good fit for him."
"I don't believe you can just be defined by something in your past like that," Gallegos' college coach continued. "He's on the right path."
Learn more about Torivio Gallegos' battles with opioid addiction -- and how his involvement in wrestling is helping him achieve a more productive life -- by reading Nick Steng's moving profile in the Argus Observer.