The minute Renaldo Rodriguez- Spencer walked into the gym at Cheektowaga Central High School, Coach Matt Haberl knew he was going places.
“He was this brash young kid full of athletic talent that just needed to be slowed down a little bit,” said Haberl.
After state and national championships with the Warriors, Rodriguez- Spencer continued his wrestling career at Iowa St. But the Buffalo native endured trying times prior to his current number one national ranking.
“I find out I’m going to be having a baby,” said Rodriguez- Spencer. “For a while I was just very scared to call my parents.”
“When something like that happens, it changes your life,” said Haberl. “You’ve got two things to do- just let it go or take it straight on. He dealt with it straight on and you can see it.”
“I wasn’t mentally there, as an athlete,” said Rodriguez- Spencer. I was just all over the place like what am I doing? Am I trying to be the best still? Am I trying to be a young father? Do I really want to go to school still? Do I want to get a job? Do I want to go back home?”
The wrestler decided to come back to Buffalo, but after months away from the sport, he returned to NAIA powerhouse Grandview University where he worked his way to the number one national ranking in his weight class.
“It’s just a number,” said Rodriguez- Spencer. I’ve always viewed myself as one of the best so I guess that’s just a little bit of recognition I guess for the hard work I put in, that’s about it, nothing major. If you look at that number you’ll start to think ‘oh man, if I lose…ahhhh.’ You’ll start playing the number game instead of just viewing yourself as the champion. If you do that every day you work hard and that’s the reason why you’re number one.”
He’ll put that number one ranking to the test this weekend as he goes for something he’s always dreamed about – a collegiate national championship.
“One of the last phone calls I had with him was ‘Renaldo, congrats one being number one, it’s pretty cool’” said Haberl. “But if I make it down to Wichita to watch you wrestle, we just win championships. We’ve been together a long time, and we just win.”