Grandfathers Go To The Mat For Gymnast Grandson

Aug 2, 2012
Originally published on August 3, 2012 9:39 am

As fans around the world are riveted to the 2012 Summer Games in London, one young gymnast already has his sights on 2016.

Albuquerque, N.M., native C.J. Maestas, 20, has been tumbling his entire life. A self-described "hyper" kid who loved to climb on things, C.J. joined his first gymnastics class when he was 18 months old.

"As a little baby, you were always jumping," C.J.'s grandfather Frank Maestas recalls.

By the age of 7, C.J. knew gymnastics was more than just a hobby. And Frank Maestas and C.J.'s other grandfather, Frank Barela, have been at his side since the beginning.

"We used to go to the little gym; we were trying to teach you how to make a somersault," Frank Barela says. "Never figuring out that you would, at one point, become such a great gymnast."

"Well, I know definitely that I couldn't be doing it without you guys," C.J. says.

C.J. competed in his first national gymnastics competition in 2004 and made the men's junior national team in 2007.

But it took C.J. several attempts to advance to the men's senior national team. He recalls how his grandfathers supported him after his failure to qualify for the senior team in 2009.

"It's nice to have you guys in my corner," C.J. tells them. "I was sitting in fifth place going into my last event. ... And I'm the underdog, but I was feeling so confident. And unfortunately, I lost my spot.

"I was crying my eyes out, you know, like a baby. And that was one time where I did go into my grandpa's arms and I said, 'You know what man, I tried.' And you said, 'It's OK. There is always another time.'"

His grandfathers were right. After several tries, C.J. finally qualified for the senior team in 2010 — a prerequisite for advancing to the U.S. Olympic team.

Even today, C.J.'s grandfathers feel like they're right there with him whenever he competes. "Well, at the events, the stress is not only on C.J., but it's on myself," Frank says. "Because we're like, 'He did so well during practice. Is he going to be able to make it at the event?'"

While C.J. didn't qualify for the 2012 Games, he's confident he's got a shot at 2016 — and that his grandfathers will help him get there.

"I just want to say thank you, both of you," C.J. tells his grandfathers. "When the day comes, and I do hopefully stand on that podium, I know that my grandfathers — they got me to be this man who I am now."

"Well, not too many young men accomplish what you have accomplished at this age," Frank Maestas tells him. "We are so, so proud of you, C.J. Don't give up."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And this weekend, American gymnasts get their last shot at medals. This morning on StoryCorps, we'll hear from an American gymnast who just missed making it to this year's games. C.J. Maestas has been training since he was a toddler. He came to StoryCorps with his grandfathers, Frank Maestas and Frank Barela, who have been at his side since the beginning.

FRANK MAESTAS: As a little baby, you were always jumping.

FRANK BARELA: We used to go to the little gym; we were trying to teach you how to make a somersault. Never figuring out that you would, at one point, become such a great gymnast.

C.J. MAESTAS: Well, I know, definitely, that I couldn't be doing it without you guys.

MAESTAS: While at the event, the stress is not only on C.J., but it's on myself because we're like, he did so well during practice, is he going to be able to make it at the event.

MAESTAS: It's nice to have you guys in my corner, because, you know, recently I was sitting in fifth place going into my last event, and to make the national team you need to make top seven. And I'm the underdog, but I was feeling so confident. And unfortunately, I lost my spot. I was crying my eyes out, you know, like a baby, and, you know, that was one time where I did go into my grandpa's arms and I said, you know what man, I tried. And you said, it's OK. There is always another time.

BARELA: You know I'm going to be there. Like for all the other ones, I'll be there forever.

MAESTAS: I just want to say thank you, both of you. When the day comes and I do hopefully stand on that podium, I know that my grandfathers, they got me to be this man who I am now.

MAESTAS: Well, not too many young men accomplish what you have accomplished at this age. We are so, so proud of you, C.J. Don't give up.

MONTAGNE: That's Frank Maestas and Frank Barela with their grandson C.J. Maestas at StoryCorps in Albuquerque, New Mexico. C.J. hopes to make it to the next Olympic Games in 2016. This story will be archived along with all the other StoryCorps interviews at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.