Belen Middle School wrestler Diego Avila had a strong showing at the Rocky Mountain National Showdown in Albuquerque, winning the title in the 106-pound weight division for 12 and under wrestlers.

Diego, a three-time state champion in New Mexico, pinned his opponent in the first round during the three matches leading up to the fourth and final match. His last opponent was from Albuquerque, and Diego pinned him in the second round.

“I was nervous,” said Diego of the championship match. “I felt relieved when I won.”

Diego Avila poses with a few of his trophies following his national title and outstanding wrestler wins.
Photo courtesy of the Avila family

Diego’s dominant performance earned him the award of Outstanding Wrestler in his age group and improved his undefeated season record to 16-0. It was a big accomplishment for the seventh-grader. During baseball season, Diego broke a rib and had to sit out for one of his favorite sports, football. Wrestling was the first sport he could play since the injury. He said the injury contributed to his nervousness.

In last year’s state wrestling championship, Diego lost in quadruple overtime. Though Diego said it was his favorite wrestling experience, he still wanted another opportunity to win.

“It was a very proud moment,” said Iris Avila, Diego’s mother. “When he won national and got outstanding wrestler, it was a lot to take in.”

Wrestling runs in the Avila family’s blood. His younger brother, Damien, is a two-time junior wrestling state champion, and his father, Russell, wrestled at Belen High School. Diego and Damien said they enjoy wrestling because of the individuality of the sport.

“They like that it’s just them,” Iris said of her sons’ interest in wrestling. “They have all the control.”

However, Diego and Damien don’t limit themselves to only wrestling.

Together, they won a district title with the Belen Majors Little League team. In football, both brothers play running back. Two years ago, Diego was named student-athlete of the year for his age group in football. Last season, Damien helped his team win the YAFL Super Bowl. Russell helps coach his sons in multiple sports.

Damien, left, and Diego, right, pose with wrestling trophies.
Photo courtesy of Avila family

“I’m probably harder on them than anyone else,” Russell joked. “But they do really well and deserve recognition.”

Despite their accomplishments, Damien and Diego have not developed big egos.

“With everything they’ve accomplished, they’re still very humble,” Iris said. “They have respect for their team and everyone they play.”

Russell agreed and commented on their passion for their sports.

“They have a competitive spirit,” said Russell, “and they make their teammates better.”

Looking to the future, the Avilas hope to one day play sports at the collegiate level — specifically at a Division 1 school. Their parents encourage them to work hard in their schoolwork and make the grades necessary to qualify for college. However, they still maintain interests in normal teenage activities like video games.

“After he won the national title, I asked him if it was better than a Fortnite win,” Russell joked. “He said he didn’t know.”

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Dustan Copeland