In 17 Months, Gymnast John Orozco Lost His Mom, Suffered an Injury, and Made the US Olympic Team

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On the last day of U.S. men’s gymnastics Olympic Trials on Saturday, NBC sports commentators Nastia Liukin and Tim Daggett essentially said that though five men would represent the US, only two slots were in play. So when a member of the USA Gymnastics selection committee announced that Chris Brooks filled one of these places in the Rio team, it became clear that Cuban-born Danell Leyva and John Orozco – a Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent – couldn’t compete side by side as they did at the 2012 Olympics. As the last person named onto the Olympic team, Orozco couldn’t contain his emotions. And even after having a few minutes to compose himself, when he addressed the media, tears continued to stream down his face.

For the past 17 months, the 23-year-old has fought through the most difficult moments of his life to earn a spot on the 2016 Olympics team. With the unexpected death of his mother in February 2015 and an Achilles tear in June 2015 – which could have kept him sidelined for 12 months – he returned to compete in January. A year after the injury, he stumbled a bit, but his flawless high bar routine helped him secure his place on the team.

After reaching this milestone, he spoke to Andrea Joyce and delivered a touching and succinct message to his mom. “I just can’t believe it. I can’t put into words after the past year and a half that I’ve had and all the people that doubted me, I finally found the strength within myself to go out there and do it,” he said. “And I know the job’s not over, but I know that I can go out there now and really give it all I got, and I’m just really proud of everyone who’s helped me get to this point, especially my mom. My mom was [in my heart] the whole time. I know she was looking down on me, and she’s so proud. And if you can hear me mom, I love you.”

As for Leyva, he isn’t one of the official five members of the team, but his performance guaranteed a spot as one of the alternates.