There shouldn’t be happy endings here. How can there be? One man who spent his life in the pool is stuck in a chair, and one young wrestler had to give up the sport he loved — ahem, loves — forever.
Let’s start with Peter Prins, a man who spent a lifetime coaching swimming at Miami high schools like Gulliver and Killian as well as Miami-Dade College. Most recently, he was building Riviera Preparatory School’s program from scratch. His coaching career spanned 38 years, and it included mentoring two athletes who competed in the Olympics. It was passion rooted deep within his childhood.
Then the strokes happened.
It was October of 2015. Prins sustained multiple strokes in one day, leaving him unable to use the left side of his body, partially blind and incapable of coaching.
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“It was a terrible day,” said Prins’ daughter, Patricia Rodriguez, as she broke down.
Then there’s Saul Tejada Jr., a senior at Braddock. As the son of a wrestling coach, Tejada, who started competing at 4, “was born on the mat.”
Then the seizures started.
Tejada was in eighth grade when he began to tune out completely for as little as 30 seconds to as long as five minutes. His mind became blank, and he couldn’t think, talk or act. It was like someone pressed an off switch on his back. Sometimes it happened several times a day.
Doctors eventually diagnosed him with a form of epilepsy, which required multiple medications and, eventually, brain surgery. It also clouded his chances of wrestling glory.
“When I started having the seizures,” he said, “I had to wrestle two opponents: I had to wrestle the guy that was in front of me and the seizures.”
Both Prins and Tejada loved to compete. Both no longer can. But because of their dedication and effort to overcome their circumstances, both were honored with the Leo Suarez/Walter Krietsch Courage Award at the Miami Herald’s All-Dade breakfast on Tuesday.
First there was Prins, who couldn’t make it to the ceremony in person. A three-person delegation accepted the award on his behalf, although he listened to the crowd rise for his standing ovation from home.
His daughter said listening to the list of his accomplishments and the crowd’s cheers served as motivation for Tuesday’s physical therapy session. She added that two of his favorite words — words he would hurl at his swimmers over and over again — now serve as motivation in his recovery: Patience and perseverance.
They have gotten him back into the pool for exercise.
“My dad is basically on Cloud Nine,” his daughter said.
Tejada, meanwhile, spoke to a crowd of hundreds for about a minute. He spoke of obstacles and overcoming. Of patience, practice and purpose. Of making it back for one last wrestling match this February on senior day.
As he stepped down and tried to walk off, he couldn’t take one step without someone stopping to shake his hand, have a word or thank him.
That continued outside, where a server working at Jungle Island pulled him aside.
“Congratulations,” she told him. “You’re amazing.”