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Sosa spurred by tragedy

Ashley's Victor Sosa (top) wrestles Northside's Douglas Bulla at home on Dec. 19, 2012. (Photo by StarNews file photo)

Victor Sosa may be the best wrestler Ashley High School has ever produced. He weighs in at 113 lbs. He's been to the state tournament twice and finished fourth last year. He's on a short list of contenders for his weight class title this season.

He's also lost his father in a car crash, moved out of his family's home, been legally adopted by a teammate's family and is trying to become a U.S. citizen.

Family matters

Family is important to Victor. Wrestling matches at Ashley include almost as many of his family members as teammates.

His two sisters, Maria and Yuri, work the concession stand. His mother and brother form their own highly audible cheering section.

His brother Carlos is the reason Victor got into wrestling during the seventh grade. After watching practices during Carlos' freshman year of high school, Victor decided to try it out.

Whenever Victor mastered a new technique, Carlos was there to tell him, "You got this."

Whenever Victor doubted if he could do something, in wrestling or otherwise, his mother, Julianna, disagreed.

"She's always told me that I'm very different," Victor said. "She always tells me no matter what it is, that I can do that - if I set my mind to it and work hard enough I can accomplish it."

Victor found early success - he won 25 matches as a freshman and qualified for the state tournament. But those same victories were few and far between for his family. Victor's father, Andres Reyes, worked in Jacksonville hoping to make enough money to feed a family of six and put his four children through college.

On Aug. 19, 2011, Andres had a car crash on the way home from work. Victor was at home. Carlos was at work. Julianna and the two daughters were at an Ashley football game.

The family rushed to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, not knowing if Andres was alive or dead. According to Victor, around 1 a.m., doctors told the family Andres had died.

A year later, Victor still references his father's death obtusely, calling it "everything that happened," or "all that."


Victor found out one thing about wrestling early on – it was excellent therapy. In middle school, his adolescent angst was released in a productive manner at practice.

Wrestling served as an outlet again as Sosa worked through the death of his father.

"It took time for me to realize," Sosa said. "At first, whenever something really bad would happen to me, I would kind of break down and go into a kind of depressed mode. I've learned to filter anything bad that happens to me as motivation."

Not only did Victor and his family lose a father and husband, they lost a financial lifeline. His brother, Carlos, took a job, but it became more difficult to make ends meet. Victor wanted to pile up records and accolades and go to college to make sure his family - especially his mother - knew their struggle was worth it.

"The way I see it is, if I can come out on top and be the best I can be and have all these accomplishments, I'm doing it all for her," Victor said. "If I can please her and show her that everything she's done for me, it's paid off, that's what gives me joy at the end of the day."

Victor added to his accomplishments as a junior. He finished with a 41-5 record and placed fourth in the Class 4A state tournament at 113 pounds. He gained collegiate attention, but his family's losses piled up as quickly as his wins on the mat.

The financial struggles continued. Transportation was a particular problem; Victor's family lives on the northern edge of Ashley's district, and the seemingly simple task of finding a way to school, practice and matches was a strain.

Victor felt he needed a change. He approached a close friend on the wrestling team, Brian Wilson, about staying with his family to be closer to the school.

Wilson's parents offered to take it one step further by adopting the Mexico-born Sosa and helping him become a U.S. citizen.

"My parents just talked about it, and they always liked him ever since they met him and decided to adopt him," Wilson said.

It was a difficult decision, especially given the Sosas' tight-knit nature. But Victor said he felt the opportunity was enough. He sat down with his family and explained his decision.

"Leaving them made me feel like I had given them up," Victor said. "I felt that for a little bit. But I understood that I had to do my thing, and once I succeed, I can help them."

So now after wrestling matches, Victor rides home with Wilson while his family heads back on their own.

"This is one of the decisions I had to make," Victor said.

Trips and falls

Victor has lost only one match so far this season. He's ranked sixth in the state for Class 4A at 113 pounds. Tennessee-Chattanooga and Virginia Military Institute lead the list of colleges that have shown interest in letting him prolong his wrestling career.

He's aware of both the struggles he's been through and the gifts he's received. He's been especially grateful for his mentors along the way.

One of them is Fowler. Fowler was just a few weeks on the job when he took one of his daughters to the hospital for a broken wrist and found the Sosa family there, distraught from the car crash which killed his father.

Fowler and Victor have become close since that night as Fowler tried to both push Victor and build a program at Ashley. Fowler says that Victor's maturity stands out.

"He's grateful," Fowler said. "He understands what people have done for him."

Victor said he's gained a new perspective on things. He uses last year's state championship matches as an example. Victor was the top seed out of the eastern regional, but lost his first match. Instead of giving up, he won four straight consolation matches and took fourth place.

"I always view things through that perspective now," Sosa said. "It's all about getting back up from your trips and falls."