Former Plainview-Elgin-Millville wrestling star has his mind centered following mom's diagnosis

Mar. 1—ROCHESTER — Martin Prieto, 20, still closely attends to his parents' every word.

They come in both Spanish and English from Javier and Rosa, who emigrated from Mexico to the United States in 1998.

They are the guiding light for Martin, a Plainview-Elgin-Millville graduate and current Rochester Community and Technical College 197-pound wrestling star.

On Friday and Saturday, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Prieto will be joined by seven other Yellowjackets wrestlers as they compete in the NJCAA National Championships. Javier and Rosa will also be there, offering their usual and irreplaceable foundational advice to their youngest of four boys, Martin.

"My parents always tell me to enjoy the opportunity, don't give up and have fun," Prieto said. "Sometimes it's hard to do all of that, but they always remind me of those three things and I always acknowledge how important that is."

Family is everything to Prieto, a former standout wrestler and football player at Plainview-Elgin-Millville. It's why he's settled in with such contentment at RCTC under the direction of Region XIII Coach of the Year Andy Hackenmueller. He's also done it alongside a throng of talented and driven teammates who Prieto says have come to feel like brothers.

"We've got a bunch of very good and very ambitious guys," Prieto said. "We've gotten very close to one another. You've got guys you've been training with for six months. That brings on a lot of camaraderie. It's a brotherhood. We are all building each other up."

It's also his family leanings that have made this Prieto's most difficult year ever.

For the Prietos, it's been a year of suffering, agonizing and doing their best to put things in God's hands. That's the result of 47-year-old Rosa having spent the last 13 months being treated for what was Stage 3 breast cancer.

The emotion of it has hit Martin — who lives at home and makes the 25-mile commute every day from Plainview to RCTC — as hard as anyone. Martin begins each day with a hug and a kiss for his suffering-though-improving mother.

"There has been a lot of pain with the cancer and a lot of sad days," said Javier, who despite Rosa's health struggles has along with her made it to almost all of Martin's matches this season, home and away. "Our oldest and our youngest two kids have taken it the hardest, as I knew they would. Martin, seeing his mom sleeping so much and on (chemotherapy) has been hard on him. But I also know that his mom has motivated him. He knows what a big present God gave him in his mom, and we are lucky that God hasn't taken her from us."

Rosa's cancer diagnosis hasn't completely remade Martin. Javier says his youngest son has always been a deeply feeling person with a huge heart. But it has offered him a reminder about what's most important in life, as well given him even more appreciation for what he has and deepend his faith.

"I've started turning even more to God, reading the Bible and going to church more," Martin said.

When it comes to Martin's wrestling, Rosa's cancer fight has him laser focused on two words: gratitude and opportunity.

Martin has built his entire season around them. The "gratitude" comes from being healthy and talented enough to be a college wrestler. Martin reminds himself that there are those who aren't well enough to even get out of bed or are wheelchair bound.

The focus on "opportunity" has to do with taking advantage of what's in front of him.

"I'm very conscious about thinking about both of those two things this year, gratitude and opportunity," Martin said. "It's about being happy and enjoying the sport that I love very much. And it's about creating relationships through wrestling and taking advantage of the skills that I've learned through it and using them in whatever job I (settle) into later."

This will be Martin's second straight trip to the national tournament, the Region XIII champion taking a 20-12 record and a No. 8 seed into the event. He walked away with a 2-2 record at nationals last year and a gnawing feeling that he'd come up short.

With that as his backdrop, Martin's focus has gone up another notch this season in his mental and physical approach. RCTC coach Hackenmueller considers him one of the most prized athletes he's ever coached.

"When Martin is on his game, he's tough to beat — he's a handful for anybody," Hackenmueller said. "And yeah, he's one of the hardest workers that I've seen. He works out two times a day every day and just doesn't miss anything. Plus, he's super loyal, super respectful. He's just a guy that I really love and he's just someone you have to root for."

Rosa and Javier will both be there in Council Bluffs, definitely rooting.

They'll also come with a reminder.

"They always tell me these three things — enjoy the opportunity, don't give up and have fun," Martin said.