It only lasted about 30 seconds.
But Braddock senior Saul Tejada Jr. struggled nearly a year fighting to earn a chance to spend that half-minute on the wrestling mat one last time.
“It was about having closure for my [wrestling] career,” Tejada said. “I just felt like after everything I went through I wanted to end it with a bang and I was able to do it.”
Tejada developed a form of epilepsy at age 14, which eventually forced him to give up the sport he spent the better part of his life competing in under the guidance of his father, longtime Braddock coach Saul Tejada.
But on Jan. 19th, during the Bulldogs’ senior night dual match against Jackson, Tejada got the chance to wrestle one last time.
After the match was over, he placed his shoes on the center of the mat — a longtime tradition for a retiring wrestler.
“It’s really sad because it was his senior year and he’s really good and could have accomplished a lot,” Tejada’s father said. “The doctors cleared him and said he could, but we wanted to be careful. He said he wanted to wrestle one last time.”
Tejada began wrestling when he was four, and training years later with his father, going to tournaments and preparing for what looked like a promising career in the sport after winning county titles in youth competitions.
But in the eighth grade, he began suffering epileptic seizures. He continued to wrestle until his junior season when the seizures began occurring more frequently, and even during competitions.
“When it happens it’s kind of like he shuts down completely,” said Tejada Sr., who has coached at Braddock the past 23 years. “There were times when it would scare me when I’d see him go completely still out there and I thought he was having one. He started having them if not every day, every other day.”
Tejada Sr. said doctors eventually proposed brain surgery that could reduce the frequency of his seizures by at least 75 percent and possibly could return to wrestling. Tejada underwent the two-part procedure this past June at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in South Miami.
Due to complications from the surgery, Tejada stopped breathing at one point, and was later intubated for four days.
After his initial recovery, Tejada spent six months undergoing grueling therapy in which he had to learn to walk again.
"We’ve had a lot of alumni come back to support him and the entire program," longtime Braddock assistant wrestling coach Sergio Hernandez said. "The thought of going through that surgery takes courage. Now he did it and got through it and just to see him try to come back and wrestle is impressive."
“I kept telling the doctors I had to be ready for wrestling season,” he said. “I felt like I couldn’t let this hinder me and I wanted to keep doing what I’ve loved to do since I was a little kid.”
Tejada Jr. swam for Braddock on the 100 and 200 freestyle events as he had done in the past to condition for wrestling season in the fall. But after a particularly challenging wrestling practice just before his senior season, Tejada suffered a pair of seizures in one day.
“We figured it wasn’t worth the risk,” his father said as he fought back tears.
But Tejada remains a vital part of Braddock’s young team. And he has suffered only three seizures overall in the seven months since his surgery.
“He’s really been our symbol of hope,” said Braddock junior Luis Hernandez. “Seeing how much he’d love to be out there motivates us because we’re lucky enough to have that opportunity.”
With a 3.4 unweighted GPA and six college credits through dual enrollment at Miami-Dade College, Tejada hopes to eventually attend Columbia University and become a nurse practitioner or possibly even become a neural surgeon.
“He got the lessons early on from wrestling that he needed to get,” Tejada Sr. said. “Whether he was a state champion or not, he’s a champion in my book and to me he’ll always be the perfect son.”