Just days into the Rio Olympics, we get only a glimpse of the many emotional triumphs to come. Look at Argentina’s Paula Pareto, for instance, who became the first to win gold in judo. Now, ahead of his big bout, we go ringside with wrestling wunderkind Jaime Yusept Espinal. While he’s quickly becoming the pride of so many Puerto Ricans (and Dominicans), his start wasn’t exactly as sweet. Through hard work and dedication, the 31-year-old athlete beat the odds of poverty, before competing in front of millions at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Here are five facts about #TeamPR’s Jaime Yusept Espinal.
Taino To The Fullest
Espinal has lived in Puerto Rico since he was five-years old, but he was originally born in the Dominican Republic. This is why so many Dominicans also support him, even if he his #TeamPR. Regardless of where he was born or where he was raised, Espinal reps both beautiful islands to the fullest. In a tweet, he defended his Quisqueya power while bigging up his sister island, when another Olympic athlete brought up the debate of his background.
Grappling With Hardship
Before he made an Olympic name for himself, Espinal and his family were emerging from poverty with little resources to survive. Forced to grow up at a young age, he quickly learned he wouldn’t be like most athletes his age. He would come to learn the difficult dance of training while providing for his family.
Discovered At A Park
It’s true what they say, great things happen in the most unlikely of places. At only nine-years old, Espinal was recruited by his coach, Pedro Rojas, at a local park in Puerto Rico. Rojas approached the young athlete while he was playing basketball with his brother, and asked him if he wanted to become a wrestler. Recalling big names like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Carly Colón, he agreed, later discovering that wasn’t exactly the kind of wrestling Rojas had in mind. After his coach explained to a young, impressionable Espinal the nature of “olympic wrestling,” he immediately began to pursued it.
A Cuban Experience
In 2010, Coach Rojas sent Espinal to Cuba to train for the Central American and Caribbean games, and little did he know what an impact it would have on his entire wrestling career. Motivated and influenced by the intense poverty he saw throughout the streets of Cuba, he dedicated himself to his training like never before. According to him, it was there that he began to take his training all the more serious. When talking about his experience, Espinal shared that “the difference between them and us” isn’t money, but the amount of heart they have regardless of their circumstance.
Outside of kicking ass, Espinal loves to soak in his Latino sazón and dance! As with lots of Caribbean immigrants, Espinal traveled to New York City with his mother for a better life. What he received upon arrival was more bigotry than he can handle, and a knife to his neck. (Yikes!) Quickly, he packed his bags and got on a plane back to Puerto Rico, where he gave up wrestling for cheerleading and dance. The multi-talented athlete even received a scholarship for cheerleading from University of Puerto Rico in Bayamón. Before finding his way back to wrestling, he spent three years as a breakdancer and worked as a backup dance for artists like Daddy Yankee and Tego Calderón. Espinal also spent some time playing baseball, and began a career as a model as well.
A photo posted by Jaime Espinal (@jaimeespinalpr) on
Watch Jaime Yusept Espinal as he competes in the men’s freestyle 86 kg at the Rio Olympics, Aug. 20.