Judo is not exactly one of the most popular sports in the country. Minuscule, you can say, compared to football, baseball, basketball or even soccer. If you are Latino, chances are that you are going to be a soccer player, or maybe a baseball player, depending on what country your family is from. But for this multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual family from Chaska, MN, judo is not a Cinderella in the sports arena; it’s a wonderful experience that has turned them into one of the most competitive families in the sport in the country.
Competing in a low-profile sport, Carlos Gallegos and his son Julian are no strangers to talent and success. Earning Gold Medals at Loras College and resounding victories in preceding tournaments has transformed this family into a national triumph for the Judo World.
Carlos, 45, began practicing the sport when he was a kid, in 1968. Julian, 10, began practicing it only two years ago and has quickly become one of the top competitors –nationwide- in his category. Carlos is now competing in the Lightweight Division and Masters Division and has proved that age is not a barrier for those with talent and will. And talent is certainly something he passed on to his son, Julian, who is competing and harvesting medals in the Junior category (younger than 13 years old).
The Gallegos family is not your common American family. It is a wonderful, multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual family that represents the best of America –the perfect melting pot. Carlos, who is of Colombian descent, and Jeung E. Yang-Gallegos, who is of Hmong descent, are proud parents of Julian, who is ranked no. 5 in the US Olympic Junior National Roster. The family lives in Chaska, just a few miles southwest of the Twin Cities, and their story has become more than a local success in Minnesota, or a Cinderella story: it is a national inspiration.
Julian was the only Minnesotan to compete and rank at the highest competitive tournament at the US Open International Judo Championships, back in September. He won the bronze medal after overcoming an early loss, which placed him in the losers’ bracket.
“Gallego’s wins included using a perfect Marotegari (double-handed reap) to defeat Nathaniel Standish of Johnston, Iowa. He also topped Jonathan Morales of Miami’s Falcon Judo Club coming from behind to win a tough match with a take down and a Kesagatame pin (scarf hold) for a full point late in the contest,” according to a Minneapolis news release.
But it wasn’t easy. He had to regain composure, self confidence and overcome stage fright to win his next hree matches and earn his Bronze medal. He faced more experienced competitors, and won every single match with an extraordinary confidence, to find himself in the final round. His final bout was against no other than Daniel Alejandro Chicaiza Capon, competitor who handed Julian his first loss and sent him to the losers’ bracket.
“I feel good about my performance at the tournament. I was very nervous and Capon was the toughest and strongest to win against,” said Julian. The stage was set and in the final match Julian and Capon faced each other and lasted the full two minutes in an extremely intense match. Julian was destined to win that match and earn the victory.
The victory was sweet for both Carlos and Julian, who share an incredible passion for the sport.
Gallegos, 45, the oldest competitor, won the gold medal for the lightweight division and silver for the master’s (over 30) division. Proving again and again that age is not a barrier in competitive sports if you have the will and the talent –and he has both in abundance. He has practiced the sport since 1968, until he took a leave from the sport in 1980. The rebirth of his passion for the sport came when his son started to practice in Chaska, and found himself again with a long-lost love that he never forgot. Still the path to competition wasn’t going to be a yellow brick road for either one of them.
“My son began training at Chaska, but the facility closed down. We found DOCS Gym and their preparation focused more on how to win competitively,” said Gallegos. “Bob Harvey, Jr. Brasil, and Greg Olsen were instrumental for the success that Julian had in all of these tournaments.”
Judo is an under-rated sport and is the second most practiced sport behind soccer, says the USAJudo website. It is the safest contact sport for kids under the age of 13 and mostly practiced martial arts sport.
Latino participation is low because it is overshadowed by baseball and soccer. But this sport does have international tournaments and is gaining popularity as people become more aware of it.
For the Gallego family, judo is more than a sport. It’s a passion that runs strongly in their veins. According to Carlos, the discipline, strategy and competitive thinking has brought great results for Julian, who has become a more focused and disciplined student that is finding many victories both in competition and the classroom. A Cinderella story? Perhaps we need to think again.