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College wrestling team captain dies on mat

September 20, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Tragedy on the mat at a college wrestling match: An athlete died, and Monday, his heartbroken family spoke out. Wrestling star Jesse Cruz, 20, was in the middle of a match over the weekend when he collapsed.The Rio Hondo College student was wrestling at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut when he fell. His family is now trying to find a way to cope with the tragedy.

Jesse Cruz shared pictures and stories Monday about the son he shares a name with. Jesse Cruz Jr., the sophomore at Rio Hondo High School, affectionately called "Little Jesse," was an accomplished wrestler who died Saturday after collapsing during the first tournament of the year.

"He went doing what he loved to do. He actually did it while he was doing it - an actual match," said father Jesse Cruz.

The wrestling meet was held at Mt. San Antonio College. When Cruz collapsed, several people rushed to his aid, including the father of the wrestler that Jesse was competing against.

"It's hard watching your son wrestle," said Mindy Cruz, Jesse's mother. "I never got used to it in all the years that he's done it, so I would look, watch a little bit and then look away so I didn't actually see. I just heard when he was dropped to the mat."

"[The other wrestler's] father is an ER nurse, Frankie Bowlinger," said Jesse Cruz Sr. "He jumped in there and he took over. He did everything he could possibly do."

Cruz was the team captain. His father says his son appeared a little sluggish before his match but that "Little Jesse" was a healthy 20-year-old athlete with no preexisting health conditions.

"We have video of it, but I can't watch it. I don't want to watch it," said Mindy Crruz. "In my mind, I feel that it was an injury."

"We could talk about anything, so it's really hard right now not having him here," said sister Brianna Cruz.

"He just collapsed there and he went to Heaven. That's where my faith is, and I believe that," said Jesse Cruz.

While the Cruz family awaits the autopsy results, they can still smile thinking about the great memories of Jesse. But the pain from his tragic death is something they will be wrestling with for months and years to come.

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