Brian Hamilton: Wrestler makes good on comeback |

Brian Hamilton: Wrestler makes good on comeback

Maybe it’s just that old adage I learned long ago in this biz – “no cheering in the press box” – but I typically would rather leave the applause for the fans in the stands.

Sometimes, though, there are moments in our sports world where I can’t help but offer a standing ovation.

Little more than a month ago, Nevada Union senior wrestler Jake Cena sat down with me to share his inspiring comeback story with The Union readers.

Cena, if you remember from our Feb. 6 piece “Long road back,” had fought his way through two years worth of frustration to return to the wrestling mat for the Miners.

After an impressive campaign as a high school freshman, in which we won 41 matches, Cena spent most of his sophomore season trying to make weight in a division he later said was too low for him to maintain.

Even after qualifying for the divisional round of the section tournament that season, he failed to cut his weight down to 112 pounds on the morning of the tournament.

And just like that, his season was over.

But that season was actually not so bad, considering the one he had the following year. After recovering from a broken wrist, he began experiencing soreness in his right knee.

He soon learned he had developed osteochondritis.

“Blood had stopped flowing in part of my knee and the bone died,” Cena said. “Part of it had broken off and was caught up in the joint. I’d have to have surgery and I wouldn’t be able to wrestle for at least the next six months.

“And I said ‘You’ve got to be kidding. This is supposed to be my comeback.’ I was looking forward to another year like my freshman year.”

Suddenly not only was his season on the ropes, but perhaps also his entire career on the mat, one he had been working on ever since he was one of those skinny little lads with a singlet falling off his shoulders.

Surgery followed soon thereafter, which was accompanied by months of rehab and a depressing spiral downward.

Without wrestling – the sport he so loved – he was lost.

Mike and Wendy Cena, his parents worried as their son, who had carried a 3.7 grade-point-average and talked about becoming a doctor, stopped caring about classes and began to wonder whether he’d even continue on to college.

And even as he prepared to make it back to the mat for his final year last fall, Cena wasn’t sure he’d ever actually toe that line again.

The pain in his knee had also made a return.

The good news later came that he could avoid that agony by limiting his running prior to competition. He would, in fact, celebrate his long-awaited senior season.

And what celebration it has become.

After securing second place in the 135-pound class of the Sierra Foothill League tournament two weeks ago, followed by a fourth-place finish in the Division II meet last weekend, Cena stepped onto the mat at the University of the Pacific this week, hoping to seize one of six qualifying spots for the California State Wrestling Championships.

He didn’t waste much time. Nailing down three wins in his first three matches of the tournament Thursday, Cena assured himself of that state berth.

Shortly after seizing that spot, he shared a huge hug with his mom, whose wide smile showed the pride of a parent who had watched one of her own overcome some serious odds in a stirring story of resiliency.

“Now it’s like we’ve got our son back,” Wendy Cena told The Union back in January. “He’s got his spirit back and he’s started taking college classes. He seems to be all back on track right now after what was kind of a complete meltdown for him, physically and emotionally.

“Whatever he does with wrestling, it seems like now I think he’s learned a lot from these experiences.”

Truth be told, we all can.


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Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column appears Saturdays. Contact him via e-mail at or by phone at 477-4240.

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