Nine-year-old grapplers take to Hawkeye mats
Diego Sotelo and Peyton Timmons only came up to the height of the other wrestlers' hips.
Hawkeye Wrestling Camp coaches explained a drill to the large horde of boys in the takedowns and escapes group. The two 9-year-olds were so much smaller than the rest of the kids that they were almost lost in the crowd.
But when a coach shouted, "Find a partner," the two immediately ran toward each other.
Peyton and Diego wrestle at 58 and 55 pounds, respectively. Diego beat Peyton in the Illinois state championships in 2011, and the two have been friends ever since.
Peyton's father, Chris Timmons, has sent his son to various wrestling camps before, but he was frustrated that there weren't other wrestlers in Peyton's weight class for him to practice with. That's when he made a pact with Diego's father, Ralph Sotelo: their sons would travel to the same wrestling camps in the summer to ensure they both had an adequate partner.
"Wrestling makes your friends your enemies and your enemies your friends," Soltero said. "Diego and Peyton don't interact too much without wrestling because we live about 50 miles apart, but they do see each other at tournaments and wrestle each other a lot because they're so close in size. They've become good friends through it all."
Diego and Peyton are 4-4 against each other. They're both competitive and driven to win. They're both 9-year-old wrestlers who will likely see each other on the mat every year as they grow older.
But they don't let the competition between them affect their friendship.
"You know you have to beat somebody anyway anytime you wrestle, so it's good to wrestle a friend," Peyton said. "You can know that no matter what happens, you'll still be friends afterwards."
Diego does get mad when Peyton beats him, but he said it's because he lost, not because he lost to Peyton.
"You can be friends with anyone," he said with a shrug.
"All of Diego and Peyton's matches are hard-fought and really tough," Timmons said. "It makes a lot of sense for the two to go to camps together because they do such a good job in training. That's what summer and off-season wrestling is about —increasing technique, learning, growing."
Diego and Peyton wrestled near the edge of the mat during camp, away from the cluster of larger boys near the center. But they practiced with the same drills as everyone else, even though they're not even old enough to go to camp without a chaperone.
They might be the smallest kids at the camp, but they work just as hard as some of the wrestlers twice their age.
Timmons said he hopes Peyton and Diego grow at the same rate so they can continue to train together. But regardless of their future weight classes, they're going to remember the summers they spent in the sweaty gyms together.
They got to meet Iowa wrestling stars Matt McDonough and Tony Ramos. They were coached by Olympians Tom and Terry Brands and Mike Zadick. They shook the hands of wrestling legend Dan Gable.
Diego said he's happy he got to meet all his idols while Peyton was there, too.
"This is an awesome experience for them to have together. I mean, for these kids, wrestling is a reward and a big event," Soltero said. "They're going to remember it for a long time. We watch these [Hawkeye] guys on TV all the time, so to meet them in person it's like going on vacation and seeing movie stars for Diego and Peyton. They both just love this sport."
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