American gymnast John Orozco is the image of the Olympic ideal. Kind, cheerful, talented, and bound in so much pure muscle that he could punch a hole through the springboard, Orozco is a young man made to be on a Wheaties box.
But growing up in the Bronx, he stuck out in a different way. He was the "gymnast kid" getting bullied.
America's male gymnasts are the figure skaters of the summer Games – each inconceivable hold on the rings or flip on the high bar a protest against the lingering perception that they are competing in a girl's sport. For a young Orozco, however, every day at school was a battle, too.
"All the kids would tease me, and when it started off, I was pretty down about it," he said at a media summit in May. "When I walked into school, they would say, 'There's the gymnast kid who walks around in tights.' "
Heading into Monday's men's team event at the London Olympics, Orozco says those days are long behind him. He is, he says, someone who can "let all the hateful things people say go right through me."
For Orozco, overcoming the bullying was a question of patience and passion. From the first moment he entered a gym at age 9, he knew he was home. Even from the hallway of the gym, the "smack of the mat and the squeal of the bar" set his pulse racing. When he stepped on the mat, he immediately started doing cartwheels.
At the media summit, a wry smile passes his lips as he leans back in his chair, so evidently satisfied with how far he has come. The possibility of this moment meant too much to the kid doing handstands in this living room. "When they started off making fun of me, I didn't care," he said. "I wasn't going to let them take that way from me."
"If you keep that in you, it will destroy you," he added.
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