ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Tabriz sat on a stack of plyoboxes in an empty wrestling room. He was the first to arrive at Journeyman Wrestling Club in Malta, rushing up the Northway after school to make it to practice on time.
When asked what wrestling means to him, he responded, “Wrestling for me is life.”
Life, and its fragility, is a stark reality for Tabriz, who’s feared for his and his family’s lives more than most high school juniors.
When the Taliban took control of his native Afghanistan, Tabriz (whose last name we won’t share to protect his family) fled his home in Kabul alongside one of his sisters and brothers His parents, who stayed back with their four youngest siblings, sent Tabriz off with a warning.
“They told for me, ‘Watch out for your life,'” said Tabriz.
6,600 miles across the Atlantic, Tabriz arrived in Albany seven months ago with very limited English
“He understood a little bit of what we were saying, but he’s learned very very fast,” said Mary Carroll, an English teacher at the Albany International Center, who added that Tabriz chose to write about being a champion in one of his first writing assignments.
“We know our students are coming to us with these difficult things going on in their lives, sometimes very significant trauma,” said Carroll. “So I think a lot of what we do in class is have it be an escape.”
School provides the freedom to focus on something else, on something good. As Tabriz walked through the halls, he stopped to point out a picture he painted in art class.
“This is Jordon Burroughs,” he explained, “wrestling champion.”
Tabriz lights up when he talks about wrestling. It’s on the mat where he finds his joy, and that was obvious to founder of Journeyman Wrestling, Frank Popolizio, who discovered Tabriz during a tournament.
“He’s really tough. He’s really special,” said Popolizio, who raved about Tabriz’s attitude.
Popolizio has taken Tabriz under his wing, teaching the 18-year-old the nuances of folkstyle wrestling in America, while helping him navigate the challenges of competing and living in a new country.
“To be able to get your own transportation, to be able to get your own communication, a phone, things like that that’ll make him independent, and self-sufficient, and part of the American dream,” said Popolizio.
Tabriz has big dreams. Even though he’s only been wrestling for about a year, he’s determined to be a champion, and he has a simple plan to get there.
“Work hard and want it,” said Tabriz. “If you want it, you can get it.
As for this new life in New York away from his family, that’s something Tabriz never wanted. He says he thinks about his parents from morning ’til night, and is scared for them.
“Very much because they are not safe,” said Tabriz.
But here he’s safe, and he’s found his place in a community that will protect and push him.
“The Journeyman is just not a club. It’s my family, I think. It’s my home. It’s my life. That’s it,” said Tabriz. “I can feel happy in wrestling.
And if wrestling is life, a happy one is a good start.