Yuma, Arizona - At 71 kilograms Aaron Gandara stands as one of the biggest high school wrestlers in the country in his weight class.
The Cibola sophomore seeks to become more than just a city champion, he wants it all. He aspires to become a Division One national champion, an Olympic gold medalist and world champion.
"I wouldn't want to be around people that just have small goals, we are more like we want to be the best in the country and that is like the kind of people I like being around."
Gandara competes in various tournaments throughout the year, but he understands these tournaments are just stepping stones towards his ultimate goal. He hates the feeling of defeat.
"I hate losing, it is like the worst thing ever to me and I love winning a lot. Every time I lose I always learn what I am doing wrong, and I go back and think about everything I did wrong before the tournament," shares Aaron Gandara.
For Gandara, champions are made through their losses. His career on the mat began early. When he was 7 he faced kids twice his age and sometimes twice his size. This taught him what it meant to lose early on.
Gandara says, "when I first started they threw me in against eighth graders and I was just as tall as I was wide, wrestling like 90 pounds or something so I was wrestling some pretty good 7th and 8th graders, so I lost a lot. Then I started wrestling kids my own age."
Gandara is an observer.
He studies his craft just as well as he studies his opponent. It is a skill he developed throughout the years as he watched his older brother, a state champion and now Division 1 wrestler at Arizona State, Andy Gandara.
Andy, his big brother is just as competitive as he is. But in a different way, for Andy, he is his brother's mentor.
"I won a state title my senior year and I think he saw that and was already shooting for big goals... just seeing me do those things, I mean he is already a sophomore and he is a state champ, it is pretty inspiring," shared Andy.
The Gandara brothers are Cibola High School royalty in a way, adding to the winning culture of the school’s wrestling program when it comes to wrestling. Either way, they love to win just as much as they hate to lose. Just like Aaron, Andy had to experience losses before he could taste gold.
" I watched him like everything he did growing up, what he did wrong and what he did right .. I would see him wake up early in the morning, lift or run or drill and he was always working hard and that just got instilled in me," expressed Aaron.
That hard work mentality paid off in eighth grade after Aaron took the middle school nationals. He felt so confident after that win that he then went on to compete at the world team trials. But, reality struck him and he soon realized this sport is no joke.
" I did not know that I wasn't ready for that but I went and I just got beat up really badly, so I went from being feared in the bracket to just being no one," shared Gandara.
That summer he took several losses. His goal prior to beginning high school was to become a 4x state champ at Cibola High School, but after placing second his freshman year at the tournament, he changed his focus to working toward his bigger goals.
Aaron Gandara will be competing in the Pan-American championships in Guatemala May 25th through the 27th representing Yuma, Arizona.