By Kenton Brooks
Phoenix Sports Writer
Arnol Arroilga has a simple outlook on his life.
“I keep moving. I don’t let anything get me down,” he said. “If I fall, I get back up.”
The Bacone College wrestler has fallen more than once in his life, but he’s gotten back up every time.
So, getting on the mat, like he does today at the NAIA Central Regional Tournament in Baldwin City, Kan., becomes easier for the Warriors’ senior when one realizes what he’s been through.
From getting out of his poor Miami, Fla., neighborhood to struggling at a California junior college, losing all of his possessions and eventually enrolling at Bacone, the senior from Nicaragua has had his share of adversity.
And, he’s overcome all of it.
Arroilga was born in Nicaragua, but raised in Wynwood, Fla., a section of Miami known as Little San Juan because of the residents’ Hispanic background. He hasn’t forgotten those early years in “The Hood.”
“Everybody had different ways of making it,” Arroilga said. “People were robbing or stealing to make money.”
Arroilga turned to sports. He tried boxing for a while, but his mother wanted him to get involved with wrestling.
“She didn’t like me boxing because there was too much punching in the face,” he said. “I started wrestling in the seventh grade.”
He wrestled in a small gym with small mats. But there wasn’t much wrestling after high school in Florida so he headed to Lassen Community College in Susanville, Calif.
Arroilga worked as a janitor and shared a house with five other wrestlers.
Hard times hit again.
“I had gone back to Miami to visit when the dude living at the house in California couldn’t pay the rent and he lost the house,” Arroilga said. “They had to take everything I had to pay for it, my clothes, shoes, books and a computer.”
He lived in a car for a time before moving in with an assistant coach from his junior college.
Bacone coach Brett Oleson heard about Arroilga and recruited him sight unseen. The wrestler showed up with all of his belongings in one small suitcase.
“He didn’t have any money and he was hustling family, friends and other relatives just to get a plane ticket out of California,” Oleson recalled. “I couldn’t keep him in the dorms when he got here, so I took him to a sleazy cheap hotel for the night.”
Arroilga ended up enrolling at Bacone. He offered to give haircuts at $10 to earn money.
Oleson couldn’t give the wrestler a full scholarship. But Arroilga worked his way through the program and Oleson was able to increase the scholarship. Life is a little easier these days as he shares an apartment with a cousin.
On the mat, Arroilga has compiled a 17-7 record this season including a win against Robert Eklund, the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked wrestler from York (Neb.) College.
Wrestling at 157 pounds, Arroilga fell behind 5-0 in the match.
“Arnol got thrown to his back and being down that much in college wrestling is like an eternity,” Oleson said. “He came all of the way back and beat the kid, 11-10.”
Oleson has been impressed with Arroilga’s development – on and off the mat.
“He came in as a little caterpillar and has blossomed into a butterfly,” the Bacone coach said. “He’s been like a cockroach as he could’ve failed or survived, but Arnol took the tough road and survived.”
If Arroilga survives regionals this weekend, he could qualify for the national tournament on March 1-2 in Des Moines, Iowa.
He’s not worried.
“Wrestling has taught me how to be dedicated and if you work hard, you can reach your goals,” Arroilga said. “If you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll laugh at you and ignore you because you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it.”