Pictured above, from left to right: Timur, Anas, Mirzo, Damir, Ardasher, Asadbek, Mavlon, and Anusher of the Cunningham JHS team.
Wrestling culture is strong in Uzbekistan, and it’s just as strong among a small group of NYC kids with roots in the Central Asian nation.
Asadbek Alamov, Damir Shavkatov, Timur Yuldashev, Mavlon Ruziyev, and Mirzo Mirzavaliev are all Uzbek wrestlers on the team at Cunningham Junior High School in Brooklyn.
Coach Steven Santimauro notes that his wrestlers have a lot of pride in their country and in each other. “Though I have no idea what they are saying,” he says, “it’s clear that they support each other. These kids are all headstrong and tough. They don't give up and they fight for every inch. That attitude lends itself well to the sport of wrestling.”
Yuldashev is in 8th grade and entering his third year of wrestling. Previously, he has taken fourth place in the City Championships and hopes to continue improving his standing. Athleticism runs in the Yuldashev family: his mother Yulia was on the Uzbekistan Junior Olympic Fencing team in the 1990s. Coach Santimauro says that he’s a smart kid with hopes of getting into Millennium High School. Santimauro also hopes that Yuldashev will continue his wrestling career.
Mirzaliev is in 7th grade and entering his second year of wrestling. “He’s an intense wrestler, having some success early on already,” says Coach Santimauro.
Alamaov, Shavkatov, and Ruziyev are the newer wrestlers to the Cunningham team.
Alamaov is in 7th grade and has some wrestling experience from when he lived in Uzbekistan. He shows his experience on the mat with his extreme athleticism and the quickness with which he learned fundamental take-downs. He’s also proven he has some Judo experience because he prefers the throws and trips more common to that sport. He had a successful 2-0 run in the Bayard Rustin tournament and Santimauro is excited to see what he can do in upcoming competitions.
Shavkatov is Alamaov’s cousin and another 7th grader. He’s newer to wrestling, going 1-1 at Bayard Rustin, but already performs near the level of fellow middle schoolers who have a year of experience over him.
Ruziyev is in 6th grade and has been commended by Coach Santimauro for being a polite kid who is also a fast learner. He comes from a family of wrestlers, with world-famous uncles and a father who played wrestling with him since he was a little boy. “I like this sport because of how it gives you this drive and adrenaline when you are fighting,” he said.
“Wrestling gives me energy, and I feel more self-confident,” Ruziyev added. His mother, Nargiza, sees the changes as well, and she’s proud of his direction. Like every mother, she says, “my hopes are big,” but she sees wrestling as a great way for him to develop determination, find a purpose, and reach a good college.
Coach Santimauro hopes that this group of kids will attract more of the Uzbek population in Cunningham to come out and wrestle. These young wrestlers are proof that no matter where you’re from, you can find friends and a path to success in NYC.