An Inspirational Wrestler that Touched Many Hearts – The Chris Sanchez Story by Al Fontes

CHRIS SANCHEZ (Livermore HS, NCS) 2018 Cullen Fitzgibbons Award Recipient – CIF State Championships


SCHOOL: Livermore High School (North Coast Section)

GRADE: Senior

AGE: 17

ACADEMICS: 3.5 Cumulative GPA (4 Year Honor Roll Student)


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Al Fontes – TCW State Editor

Inspirational. Courageous. Fighter. Survivor. These words describe WRESTLER Chris Sanchez. I met Chris recently and learned of his unique story. In my many years of being in the wrestling community, I have met kids from all backgrounds, who have faced adversity. Chris is one of the strongest young men I have had the honor to get to know.

Academics and participating in sports has been an integral part of Chris Sanchez’s life since early childhood. His parents have always encouraged him and his siblings to be involved with extracurricular activities. Chris participated in soccer, competitive swimming, baseball, and during his 6th grade year at Christensen Middle School in Livermore, he was introduced to the sport of wrestling. From his first experience on the mat, he fell in love with the sport. According to his middle school coach, Brian Williams, “Chris was the best middle school wrestler that I had ever had the opportunity to coach…he never gave up a point without battling to the end.” With virtually no prior experience, he qualified to the highly competitive Northern California Tournament of Champions for middle school wrestlers in both his 6th and 7th grade seasons. Unfortunately, at the beginning of his 8th grade year in 2013, Chris was diagnosed with leukemia and was now facing the greatest battle of his life. At this point, it was estimated to take approximately 3 ½ years to complete the extensive treatments to overcome this disease. Chris was a fighter and was not going to give up. Despite not being able to compete his final year in middle school, he was still designated the Team Captain by his coach and voted “Most Inspirational Wrestler.”

“Wrestling itself has been more than just a sport to me. It has given me the ability and the skills to take adversity head on and push through the hardest moments in my life. I will never forget all of the life lessons and character traits that have been instilled upon me by this sport,” Chris Sanchez

Due to the extensive treatment process, Chris was physically in a fragile state and had a weakened immune system. Being isolated in the confines of his home for approximately a year and a half, he had very limited physical interactions with his family and friends. He was home schooled during his 8th and 9th grade years and began attending Livermore High School during his sophomore year but was not cleared to participate in any sport activities. Fast forward to the latter part of his junior year, the possibility to get on the mat was looking promising. March of 2017, Chris was now released by his doctors to participate in extracurricular activities. Having attended several dual meets at Livermore, Chris got the urge to compete again. Training during the summer and participating in the open gym wrestling practices, he picked up from where he left off several years prior and made the varsity lineup at 113 pounds his senior season. Incredibly, he was able to compete well on the mat and placed at several local area tournaments, including placing runner-up at the East Bay Athletic League Championship this past month in a competitive weight group and qualifying to the North Coast Section Championships. After graduation, Chris plans to attend college with the goal of earning a degree in Computer Science and Software Development.

During the CIF State Wrestling Championships, I had the privilege to present Chris with the Cullen Fitzgibbons “Most Inspirational” Wrestler Award. This honor is given each year to the state’s most inspirational wrestler. Chris embodied the spirit of this award and his story deserved to be told. Below is the Q&A I had the opportunity to have with Chris.

CHRIS SANCHEZ (Center, next to Coach Herb Guidry) with teammates at the 2018 CIF North Coast Section Championships


TCW: How did you first get involved in the sport of wrestling?

CHRIS SANCHEZ: Back when I was in elementary school my two older brothers were involved in Livermore wrestling. They would always come home and practice some of the moves they learned, on me of course. By the time I got to middle school I decided, “Hey I know a little about wrestling!” and I just decided to give it a shot. It totally stuck right away.

TCW: What person(s) has been your biggest influence since taking up the sport of wrestling?

CHRIS SANCHEZ: When I first started wrestling back at Christensen Middle School, my first workout partner, Ryan Peterson, became my biggest influence. Everyday in practice he would show me new moves and techniques which made me such a better wrestler. Since he was a year older than me he had a lot more experienced than I was, plus he was wrestling for years prior. The relationship that we had was similar to that of my brothers. Whenever he would try new moves on me, it would just motivate me to get better and better at wrestling.

Chris Sanchez competing for Christensen Middle School

TCW: What life lessons have you learned in the sport of wrestling that applies in your day-to-day life?

CHRIS SANCHEZ: Two simple words describe the lessons I have learned from wrestling: Hard work and dedication. These two qualities will come into play for the rest of my life. We all know that life gets hard; and it’s at those times when you need to have the dedication to get through those hardships. Along side dedication, a good work ethic ensures you succeed in those areas. It all goes beyond athletics. All of the many lessons I’ve learned will come with me into the real world.

TCW: Who has been your role model(s) up to this point in your life? How did they inspire you to be the person you are today?

CHRIS SANCHEZ: When I was growing up I never really had any role models, but as I’ve matured over the years and through my illness, I’ve began to notice someone who has been in my life for a long time. My father Martin is a great man who has an incredible work ethic and has been one of my greatest supporters throughout my life. The example he sets for getting work done is quite admirable. The more I observed every little thing that he does, the more I get inspired by him and his actions. I would love to one day be a good a man as my father.

Chris shared this honor with his father, Martin.

TCW: Not being able to compete for several years as a result of your illness, what did it feel like to be back on the mat for your senior season?

CHRIS SANCHEZ: My literal answer to this question is: SORE! However on a serious note, being able to get on the mat was an amazing feeling and was probably one of my greatest achievements in my life. I put in so much work just to get to the point where I could come back. Because this opportunity was so great for me I wasn’t going to let anyone take the joy away from me. Every time I went on the mat I had a smile on my face, and every time I came off the mat I had an even bigger smile on my face win or lose. I never let any results affect me in a negative way. Each opportunity I had, I took.

TCW: In your opinion is wrestling more of a mental sport or physical sport?

CHRIS SANCHEZ: Both physical and mental strength come in to play, however I feel like the sport is 80% mental and 20% physical. There are many times in a match where its comes down to who has more heart. When you’re in overtime and both of you are gassed, whoever has the strongest will power will win in the end. At times when you’re on your back and can’t breathe, it’s easy to just pin yourself and get to a more comfortable state. It all comes back to the idea of having more heart. My coach, Marc Kavanagh, was always telling the team that we need to have a “Mental Toughness” and I 100% agreed with that. I always was striving to make sure I was being mentally tough. I believe that you should always be giving it your all no matter what position you’re in or who you’re going up against. This will make you successful.

TCW: What has been the most memorable moment in your wrestling career?

CHRIS SANCHEZ: I feel like this whole past year will be hard for me to forget, but if I had to pick a moment it would be winning my first varsity match which also happened to be my first real match back from my illness. This was my biggest motivator for the entire season. From that point on I knew that I actually had a chance this year and I could be successful.

TCW: What are you plans for wrestling after high school? Do you plan to compete in college or coach someday?

CHRIS SANCHEZ: I haven’t really thought about my after high school involvement in wrestling. I was so focused on just getting back into the sport for my senior year that I wasn’t thinking about when it was over. When I’m older I feel like it would be great to come to Livermore and help out with their program. I know when I have a family and kids of my own I would love for them to get involved with the sport because I want them to learn some of the character traits that I learned, because I know it will make them better people.

TCW: Where do you want to go to college? What are your future career goals?

CHRIS SANCHEZ: A goal of mine is to to some day attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah; and to receive my degree in computer science. Technology “Tech” is going to be such a big deal in the future and I feel like being able to work for a major tech company like my older brother would be a great experience and would best suit me.

TCW: Please describe your experience attending this year’s CIF State Championships.

CHRIS SANCHEZ: Being able to attend this year’s State Championships was an experience like no other. The wrestling at this level was such a great spectacle. It was also good to know that every wrestler that was at this tournament shares the same qualities and has a similar mindset. Also being able to receive the Cullen Fitzgibbons Award was such a honor to me…it made the experience so much more enjoyable and memorable. It was also great to be able to share this moment with a great friend of mine, Ethan Montesinos, and his parents.

Cullen Fitzgibbons “Most Inspirational” Wrestler Award

Cullen Fitzgibbons “Most Inspirational” Wrestler Award Recipients 2008 – 2018