TORONTO — About 10 minutes after he won a grueling championship match in wrestling, Team Florida’s Sammy Micco Sanchez was still breathing heavily as fellow Seminoles congratulated the two-time gold medal champion.
After breezing through two victories on the first day of competition, Sammy needed every ounce of his 192-pound frame to edge a larger Team Wisconsin’s Brandon King, 5-3, in the 220.5-pound North American Indigenous Games’ title match July 19 at the Toronto Track & Field Centre on the campus of York University in Toronto.
“We’re bringing home another gold,” declared Sammy’s stepdad Frank Cabal as he held up Sammy’s first gold medal in front of about 20 Seminole supporters who filled a set of bleachers next to the mat. Amid the fans in the front row was Sammy’s mom, Alicia Cabal, whose presence provided additional inspiration.
“She just had surgery on her arm and it’s been killing her to do anything,” Sammy said. “Just the fact she wanted to come here and support me, it’s amazing. That’s why I do it all for her. All my medals go to her. Every medal I win I give it to her because if it wasn’t for my mom I wouldn’t be here participating.”
As they do before every wrestling match and football game – whether it’s at NAIG or Fort Gibson High School in Oklahoma – Sammy and his mom prayed.
“To come out winning for a second time is really a blessing. Me and my mother pray before every match and every football game. I feel like I’ll lose if I don’t pray with my mom,” Sammy said.
Sammy’s additional supporting cast, including Frank and his coach Sammy Johnson, has played key roles in both gold medals.
“If it wasn’t for my coach, I wouldn’t be the best I am today. I wanted to quit so many times, and he wouldn’t let me; my stepdad Frank, too. I mean we have our ups and downs, but I love him. I do it for both of them,” Sammy said.
And Sammy does it for the Seminole Tribe. Before the start of the championship matches, all finalists gathered in an area away from the mats as they prepared for a brief introduction ceremony to start the session. Sammy wore a blank black tank top and shorts, but went back to his bag and returned with Team Florida’s Seminole jacket. He tied it around his waist just in time for the introductions.
“I didn’t just come here to represent myself; I came here to represent the Tribe. I had to run back and get it so they knew where I am from,” he said.
Winning gold for a second consecutive NAIG proved to be tougher for Sammy than the first time three years ago in Saskatchewan. King was a rock solid opponent.
“I gave 30 pounds. He was strong. He was way bigger than me,” Sammy said.
“We were kind of iffy on this last match because Sammy is weighing 192 and he’s wrestling a kid that’s 220 and the kid was stout and very muscular,” Frank added. “We knew Sammy would be real competitive in it, but he even told me, ‘Dad, I was sweating so bad that if I would have tried to get in there he would have got a good hold of me and flip me. Basically I could win it by points.’ He played it safe.”
Sammy fell behind 1-0 early in the match, but he didn’t panic.
“I told myself I’m not leaving here without gold; silver won’t cut it. I won it once, I can win it again. I repeated it over and over in my head,” he said.
Sammy quickly changed the tone and the score as he took the lead for good with two points for a takedown. He scored additional points for pushing King off the mat and built his lead to 5-1 before King scored a couple late points to make the final 5-3 in a match that lasted the full two 3-minute rounds on a day when nearly every other championship match ended in the first round. The wrestlers spent most of the match on their feet.
“I thought we created the action the whole time,” coach Johnson said. “We wrestled really well. It’s a big match for us. Hopefully that will carry over to football season and wrestling season back home.”
Sammy’s preparations for NAIG were limited because he spent part of the summer participating in football camps at Oklahoma State and Florida State. The middle linebacker on the FGHS team planned to shift his focus back to football when he returned to Oklahoma, but he cherished his wrestling victory in his final NAIG.
“He wanted to make his coach proud. He wanted to make his mom and I proud. He did; he always does,” Frank said.