When weight-training teacher Michael Biddix put a 45-pound plate in Emilio Navarez’s hands, the Rock Hill High School senior wrestler made a physical connection with his weight-loss success. The plate represented the 45 pounds he had shed.
“Knowing that was off my back, it was like, ‘dude, this is crazy,’ ” said Navarez. “To just have it right there in your hands. This used to be a part of you, but now you can drop it.”
Navarez was closing in on a weight of 300 pounds in August, 2012 when he decided to grab hold of his life’s reins through better eating and exercise. On Thursday, Navarez will wrestle for Rock Hill at 195 pounds, an almost unimaginable prospect 18 months ago. He’s won 13 of his 15 matches in the 220-pound class this season, but Thursday night’s tri-meet with rivals South Pointe and Lancaster, will be his first start in a region matchup. It was wrestling that helped spark Navarez’s loss of close to 100 pounds.
“It wasn’t a stated thing, as far as ‘you go make 97.’ It was more of him making a decision that he was gonna be in the lineup,” said Rock Hill wrestling coach Cain Beard. “He told our assistant coaches last year that he was gonna do what he had to do to get in the lineup. He’s changed his diet, made healthier choices, and we’re getting the results 100 pounds later.”
This wasn’t one of those cut a bunch of weight overnight-type situations. Navarez shed his poundage methodically over 18 months by limiting his daily intake of calories to 1,200 and avoiding salty and sugary foods.
“You’ll see a lot of people lose a lot of weight in wrestling but they never keep it off, so I knew I had to do something more with it,” he said.
It was the five-pound plate that Biddix dropped in Navarez’s hand that really got the Bearcats’ grappler going. He’d lost five pounds, but was yo-yoing back and forth, unable to get moving in a leaner direction.
“I think all kids are visual learners,” Biddix said Wednesday. “If you’re a visual learner, you can understand what you see and feel. If he can pick that weight up and say, ‘dang, I lost that much weight?’ they can see they don’t need to be carrying that around.”
According to a report released over the summer by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents over the last 30 years. During the same time span, the percentage of adolescents aged 12-19 years that were obese increased from 5 percent to 18.
“I always tell the kids here at school,” Biddix said, “ ‘God give you one body; you need to take care of it.’ It ain’t like a car or a girlfriend. You wreck a car or lose a girlfriend, you get another one. You’ve got to take care of your body, and it will take care of you.”
Navarez was not taking care of his body.
“I started feeling it, it started slowing me down,” he said. “I didn’t want to live my whole life like this, so it was time to take a new road.”
Navarez lifted weights, jogged, and played basketball with his brother. There were still temptations galore though, namely at the school cafeteria where pizza was served daily. Sometimes Navarez’s family unintentionally made things harder too, like when his mom brought home donuts for him and his four brothers and two sisters.
“I just had to watch them eat them,” he said. “Sometimes there was a battle.”
Navarez could feel a difference after losing the first 20 pounds. As his metabolism picked up pace, he lost 45 pounds last school year, but really put his foot to the pedal over the summer, dropping 45 pounds in the first semester of this school year alone.
“I knew I could do it, but I didn’t think I could keep it up this long,” he said. “One of my biggest fears was to just fall off.”
Navarez sweated through a practice Monday evening, still working with the heaviest wrestlers on the team, but no longer burdened by the extra poundage. The reminders are still present though; he continually has to adjust his baggy gray sweatpants as they slide down his legs because he hasn’t purchased new ones that fit yet. Navarez and his family have revamped his wardrobe several times since he began losing weight, a process that’s increasingly expensive. So far, he’s down from a size 44 pant to 36.
“It’s freakin’ annoying me now, man,” Navarez said, laughing. “I never thought I would say that, but pretty much at the end of the year, I’m gonna have to gut my closet.”
Navarez’s teammates can’t help but remark about how much easier it is to get an arm around his torso while practicing moves.
“He’s smaller and he’s gotten a lot faster,” said Cameron Bell, one of the state’s top-ranked 220-pound grapplers and a practice partner.
Beard hopes opponents find that out soon, too. Navarez filling the 195-pound vacancy comes at a crucial time for the Bearcats as they gear up for another dual state title run. The 195-pound weight class had become a problem slot with no wrestler able to consistently fill the gap. A number of wrestlers have cut weight so that Navarez can slide in and prevent the team from forfeiting the weight class, and precious points, the rest of the season.
“We don’t have a 95 right now,” said Bell. “If we wrestle Lexington or one of them in the state championship, we can’t afford to give up six points.”
By Thursday, Navarez will have lost 96 pounds (from 290 down to 197). His percent body fat has fallen from 32 to near 20.
“He looks good,” said Beard. “He’s lean and I’m just excited for him to get into the lineup and have that opportunity.”
“I’m gonna give it my all,” Navarez said about Thursday’s match. “It’s gonna be the best day just knowing that I’m not even in the 200’s any more. And we’re going against South Pointe, our rivals. I’m gonna be so hyped.”
The second week of January is when many folks’ pursuit of New Years’ resolutions begins to wane. Emilio Navarez’s personal resolve is only strengthening.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T