The Bronx gymnast who refuses to be defined by Olympic disappointment
It was one of the highlights of his gymnastics career.
John Orozco finished the preliminaries of the all-around final at the 2011 World Championships in second-place
His phone started to ring.
“My brother got arrested that same night,” he said to the Olympic Channel Podcast.
“And I was like, 'Now, I have to listen to how my brother was beaten by police'.”
For John, aged 18 at the time, it was a clear turning point. The start of a period in his life marked by injury, sporting frustration, tragedy... and hope.
Podcast: Creating hope after tragedy with US gymnast John Orozco
Podcast: Creating hope after tragedy with US gymnast John Orozco“It's not popular for men to be emotional in America. Especially black men.”Family tragedy. Injuries. A new mission in Los Angeles. You may remember US gymnast’s emotional NBC interview after he made the team for Rio 2016.He beat the odds to make the team after injuries and the sudden death of his mother.Orozco never made it to Brazil. Another injury ended his sporting career.Now, the 25-year-old is looking to become a singer in Los Angeles.“Hope is not… an empty concept. It's something that you have to create the meaning for - what is your hope?”
Orozco grew up in the Bronx, New York. It’s not a place people usually associate with elite gymnasts.
But his talent led him to the U.S. national team base in Colorado.
Fresh out of high school, John waved goodbye to New York’s bright lights and packed his bags.
“I was not ready to move out. I was not equipped with the life skills that I should have that at that age. That's due to the lack of finances I had growing up. The lack of education… It was a cultural shock for me.”
The sacrifice was soon to be rewarded.
Despite the family phone call at the 2011 World Championships, Orozco came away with a bronze medal in the team event. He also placed fifth overall in the men’s all-around.
By then it was clear Orozco had the talent to make it on to the next US national Olympic team.
Once he was picked, he broke down in tears in an interview with NBC.
“It's not popular for men to be emotional in America - especially black men.
“But I didn’t care. It felt like everything had finally paid off.”
London 2012 was not the experience he expected.
“I just got freaked out by the attention and the pressure.”
He placed eighth in the individual all-around and the team finished fifth.
In his strongest event, the pommel horse, he made costly errors.
Once home, the disappointment caused John to hit the gym – hard.
Maybe too hard.
Injury after injury
The next Olympic cycle didn’t pan out as expected.
“It was a living nightmare." - John Orozco to Olympic Channel Podcast
“At the time, I was just feeling like 'Am I a bad person? I am being punished. I must be doing something evil.’”
Towards the end of 2012, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The knee injury is one of the worst in sport.
He made it back to, and took an individual medal at, the 2013 World Championships with a third-placed finish in the pommel. In 2014, he was part of the US team that took a World bronze in the team category.
Early in 2015, his mother died unexpectedly.
Four months after that he was told to forget about Rio 2016. He had torn his Achilles tendon for the second time.
“Those four years - I don't know how I got through it honestly.”
Through it all, John kept himself in contention for the national team and managed to secure a spot on the roster for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
He broke down in tears again on national television when he qualified.
“The job is not over. I am proud to be representing USA and I am going to give it all I got,” he said to NBC.
But the chance never came. A mere 21 days before Rio 2016 started, he tore his ACL again.
This time there was no way back. John decided to leave gymnastics and put his Olympic hopes to one side.
John now lives in Los Angeles, and has just released the first single of his music career.
The 25-year old sings, and is taking classes in audio engineering.
“Life in LA is amazing... It's such an amazing feeling of freedom and expression - something that I’ve never had ever. Especially in gymnastics.” - John Orozco to Olympic Channel Podcast
And to the skeptics?
“As someone who has pretty much literally been to hell and back - the advice that I would give to someone who is going through something that seems impossible to get through is that time doesn't stop and you will get through it.”
Like a lot of people who have been through a lot, John has a surprising positivity.
He says negative things, but not in a negative manner - all with a winning smile.
It’s his belief that in the darkest moments – there is hope.
“Hope is not… an empty concept. It's something that you have to create the meaning for.
“What is your hope? My hope was after the second ACL (and) after the second Achilles was ‘I hope I walk again.’
“If you can't see that far ahead - then take a step back with your expectations because your life isn’t going to change overnight.
“If you need to seek out help - seek out somebody. It doesn't have to be someone you know.
“If you feel like no one knows you, then call the line - call someone. Because it'll end. It has to end… Your feelings are not permanent.” - John Orozco to Olympic Channel Podcast
John Orozco was this week’s guest on the Olympic Channel Podcast.
Each week we find the biggest athletes and speakers athletes to talk about the Olympics.