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Natomas’ Jordan Sepeda has faced no shortage of adversity — wrestling has helped him overcome it all. By TREVOR HORN | Contributor Standing 5-foot-5...

Natomas’ Jordan Sepeda has faced no shortage of adversity — wrestling has helped him overcome it all.

By TREVOR HORN | Contributor

Standing 5-foot-5 and more resembling Adam Richman’s eating contest partner on an episode of “Man v. Food” rather than a state-qualifying wrestler, Jordan Sepeda is used to the looks and the murmurs from the crowd, coaches and opponents before matches.

But once the bowling ball-like, 220-pound No. 3 state-ranked wrestler from Natomas High in Sacramento gets on the mat, the senior quiets any confusion of where he is meant to be.

Sepeda will compete for his second Sac-Joaquin Section Masters title on Feb. 24 and if all goes to plan will be seeking his first CIF state title in Bakersfield the first week in March.

He is quick like a cat, and strong as an ox. As quickly as Sepeda swoops in on an opponent for an early takedown, he can lift that opponent.

Outside distractions can’t deter Sepeda from his goal, especially after what he’s gone through personally over the last year and a half. His head coach Don Martinez may state it best by saying, if Sepeda was a cat, he would “be on his 12th life.”

After his sophomore season, when he won the SJS title at 189 pounds, Sepeda tore the ACL in his right knee. Needing almost a year to recover properly, doctors didn’t perform the surgery until May despite his injuring the knee during the wrestling season. 

However, he was back wrestling at the Tim Brown Memorial Tournament in late January. Sepeda then finished first in Tri-County Conference and despite a second-round loss at Masters, Sepeda finished third at 182 pounds as a junior. 

“What sets him apart is I have never had anybody that had to go through the adversity that he has gone through,” Martinez said. “I didn’t think he was coming back his junior year, it’s pretty amazing for the surgery that he had.”

But that wasn’t it. Sepeda banged up his shoulder just before the season started during football practice for the Nighthawks, but it was an incident on a September afternoon walking home from school last fall that really made the family question whether or not he would wrestle, or even live.

With his dad, Joseph, who has been his coach, mentor, hardest critic and best traveling partner since Jordan was four, was on a job interview, Jordan was left to walk home — something he didn’t normally do.

Sepeda called his dad numerous times looking to get a ride home from school. But with dad in the job interview, Jordan started walking. 

Near a roundabout close to the Natomas campus, Sepeda said he was about ready to cross the street when he noticed an SUV slowing down to let him cross.

But once he got into the street, the car sped up, hitting Jordan in the right side of his midsection. Jordan believes the driver attempted to drive away, but his shoe caught in the wheel base while sending him to the ground and lodging his sneaker into the brakes.

“He tried to hit-and-run until my shoes flew off my feet,” Sepeda said. “I latched onto the car because I felt my feet go underneath like he was going to run me over.”

While sprawled out next to the road, Sepeda called his dad one more time, but this time for a different type of ride.

“After calling me for a ride about five times, he called me ten minutes later saying ‘Dad, this guy just ran me over,’” Joseph said. “You could hear him crying and wincing. I run out of the interview and I don’t know what is going on.”

When dad showed up, Jordan was laying in the grass holding his right side, crying.

“This guy is built tough,” Joseph said. “So for him to be crying … that day I saw fear in his eyes that I never want to see again. He was scared.”

Rushing his son to the hospital, the family feared the worst when doctors told them he might have a lacerated liver and internal bleeding. Sepeda spent 42 hours in intensive care. Luckily tests came back negative and he fully recovered. But that opened up father and son to how important wrestling is to them.

Living on a shoe-string budget and sometimes having to pinch pennies to get his son to and from wrestling tournaments as a youth, Joseph said he was always willing to sacrifice to give his son the ability to compete. 

But the car accident, the knee and shoulder injury, they made him think about the sacrifices and what wrestling has given to his family and where they would be if it was taken away.

“We would be nothing. We have invested our whole lives into this,” Joseph said. “We have relied on the community since he was a little kid. We are not the richest people. We have been poor in money, but so rich in other ways. Without family support and community support, we would be nowhere. (Jordan) would be one of those kids left to the side without the support.”

Case in point was in 2004. When the family was living in Clovis, a hotbed of wrestling in Central California, Joseph said he and his son got a ride from a fellow wrestling family to Winnemucca, Nev., for a regional tournament. After Jordan advanced to the national tournament, Joseph knew he didn’t have the money, or the proper vehicle to get his son to the tournament in Minneapolis. 

The mother of a fellow wrestler offered to drive Jordan across the country to wrestle. But Jordan, even at nine, said no to the offer, knowing he couldn’t go without his dad.

Knowing how important it was for Jordan for his dad to go and be there with him, the mother offered to bring both of them. They raised money for a hotel room and food money for the trip selling collectable hats on the road just to make ends meet.

But to even pay for the tournament entry fee and to eat, Joseph worked at the tournament.

“People didn’t know us, they welcomed us in,” Joseph said. “We were 2,000 miles away from home and they don’t know us from a sack of oranges and let me come in and work. That is just more love from the community.”

Jordan would win the national title in both Greco Roman and freestyle, the only wrestler from California to accomplish the feat that year.

Moving up two weight classes this year has not stopped Sepeda. He has beaten two of the top six wrestlers in the state, both at the Tim Brown in January. Two weeks prior, Sepeda lost a 5-4 decision to top-ranked Sean Medley of Wasco at the Doc Buchanan Invitational in Clovis.

“I second-guessed myself before my junior and senior year because the doctors said I wouldn’t be able to wrestle at all,” Sepeda said. “But then again it motivated me more to stay in the gym and workout my legs. I know I have precious time in high school and I will never get those years back.

With a current record of 37-3 and the state tournament in his sights, perhaps he’s planning on making up for them in one quick swoop.


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