Compassion from a competitor can transcend a small town, a state, even a nation. Amed Castro-Chavez proved that this past winter to his rivals in mourning. Spencer High and its wrestling team in northwestern Iowa were grief-stricken following the sudden death of Austin Roberts. The senior wrestler collapsed during a match in December and died because of what was later discovered to be a congenital heart defect. Roberts was ranked sixth in Class 3A and had won 14 matches in a row, including one over Castro-Chavez of Estherville-Lincoln Central. The schools had a dual meet scheduled just two weeks after Roberts’ death, Spencer’s first match following the tragedy.
“I knew it would be a night to take the time to remember Austin and have a moment of silence and try to cheer everybody up and make things normal again,” Castro-Chavez said. In attendance among the Spencer contingent were Austin’s mom, Lori, his grandparents and family. “She needed to be there for the team, just like we needed to be there for her,” Spencer coach Adam Gress said.
Normally, when a team doesn’t have a wrestler in a weight class, the opponent walks to the center of the mat, where the referee raises his arm to accept a forfeit. But taking a victory because of a tragedy seemed wrong to Castro-Chavez and his coach, Dan Hewitt. So, the two discussed options before Castro-Chavez took the mat. “Once my coach talked to me, I knew exactly what to do,” Castro-Chavez said. “I wanted to reach out to Austin’s family.” So, instead of accepting the forfeit, Castro-Chavez forfeited himself. He then walked over to Lori, hugged her, and told her that he wished he could wrestle Austin again. He shook the hand of Austin’s grandfather. Hewitt followed, shaking hands with members of the Roberts family.
“It was a class act of Amed, his family and the Estherville program. It shows how much Austin’s death impacted people outside our wrestling family,” Gress said. “These guys that we were trying to wrestle and ultimately beat up were soft-hearted enough to think of our team and Austin’s family. It was amazing.”
The story quickly spread beyond the towns, about 45 miles apart, throughout the state and nation, much to Castro-Chavez’s surprise. He said he was “blown away” when customers in the grocery store where he worked would thank him, “but it was hard to believe that people all over the country would look up to me and say how much it touched their heart.”
Since then, Castro-Chavez has graduated and was named All-Iowa Athlete of the Year. He is majoring in criminal justice at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, where he’s continuing his wrestling career. People in Spencer, though, will never forget his class in the face of tragedy. “People want these feel-good stories because we hear about so much garbage and here’s this 18-year-old who does what most adults wouldn’t think to do,” Gress said. “It was the silver lining on all of the sadness and showed that there are still so many good people around.”