Kearny High freshman Valdez making mark in gymnastics

Photo by Jim Hague/ Kearny resident Favian Valdez shows off the hardware that he’s won thus far this season as a highly respected gymnast.


By Jim Hague
It all began as a way to try to curtail the hyperactive tendencies of a 5-year-old.
When Favian Valdez was just entering kindergarten, he could not sit still for any extended period of time.
“He always had so much energy,” said Favian’s father, Fernando. “He was such a hyper kid that we needed to find a way to get him to sleep.”
At the time, the elder Valdez took his toddler son to a playground in the Bronx, where the family lived.
“One gentleman at the playground saw Favian playing and he asked if Favian was doing gymnastics,” Fernando Valdez said. “He told me that he was a natural and he recommended that I should take Favian to do gymnastics.”
Fernando Valdez didn’t know a single thing about gymnastics. He made a career out of being in the U.S. Army, spending 25 years in the military, including a stint in Iraq.
When the gentleman at the playground recommended that young Favian should go to the Chelsea Piers in Manhattan to learn more about gymnastics, Fernando Valdez knew it would be a costly experiment. So Valdez took his son only once a week to start.
Little did Fernando Valdez know that it would be the beginning of a budding career, one that could eventually lead Favian one day to the Olympic Games.
As it turned out, Favian Valdez loved gymnastics, becoming a daily obsession.
“I really liked it a lot,” the younger Valdez said.
“His coaches loved him,” the elder Valdez said. “They could tell he was a hard worker.”
Except there was one obstacle. Favian had a tough time with one event, the pommel horse.
“I was very close to quitting,” Favian Valdez said. “I couldn’t do it.”
Fernando Valdez purchased a special piece of gymnastic equipment, called a “mushroom.”
“Every day, I came home and worked on the mushroom,” Favian Valdez said. “I made sure I worked until I got that skill.”
“He overcame it and gave him a sense of accomplishment,” Fernando Valdez said.’
“It’s still my favorite,” Favian Valdez said.
By the time Favian was seven years old, he was already entering competitions. By the time he was nine, he was competing in a regional competition and recording perfect scores of 10 – yes, on the pommel horse. That same year, Valdez finished third in the country overall.
“After I got that first 10, I worked even harder,” Favian Valdez said. “I knew I was really improving.”
After doing well in the Future Stars regional tournament, Valdez was invited to train for a week at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
By that point, gymnastics became a full-fledged, all consuming activity. He was living in Orlando, Florida at the time, but making his mark as a nationally respected gymnast.
“I would train five or six days a week, maybe five hours a day,” Valdez said.
It paid off. At age 10, Valdez won the national overall gymnastic championship for his age group. He duplicated the feat again at age 12. At age 13, he earned a berth in the United States Junior Nationals, competing against athletes much older and bigger in stature. He was the youngest competitor in the field. Competing with a broken finger, Valdez finished 13th in the nation.
In March, Valdez moved with his family to Kearny. Fernando Valdez is a Jersey City native, so he was familiar with the area. After graduating in June from Lincoln School, Favian Valdez enrolled in Kearny High School, where not many of his fellow students realized that there is a nationally-ranked gymnast in their midst.
“I don’t like to talk about it too much,” the younger Valdez said.
What makes Valdez’ ascent to the national ranks even more impressive is that he’s not the biggest kid in the world. He stands about 5-feet tall and weighs just 73 pounds.
“I’ve always been a little short,” Favian Valdez said. “When people see a small guy like me, they don’t expect much.”
But Valdez is fluent in all aspects of gymnastics _ the rings, the parallel bars, the vault and of course all-around. Now 14 years old, Valdez is taking a step up and competing against older athletes.
Valdez has been competing with the United States Gymnastics Development Center in Mahwah, where he continues his rigorous training schedule, training with approximately 10 other top gymnasts. He works daily with respected Russian coach Genadi Shud.
“I wake up and go to school,” Valdez said. “Then, I come home and try to take a nap. I then go to Mahwah and train every day from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., then have to do my homework. It’s not easy. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices, like going out with my friends and doing other things.”
However, training with the U.S. Gymnastics Development Center has paid off, because Valdez has enjoyed an excellent start to the competition schedule.
On Dec. 3 and 4, Valdez competed in the Greater New York Invitational in Suffern, N.Y. and won his age group, capturing the gold medal in the floor exercise, the pommel horse, the rings, the parallel bars and all-around.
A week later, Valdez competed in the Valeri Liukin Invitational in Frisco, Texas and enjoyed similar success against tougher competition and a deeper field of 36 competitors. Valdez won the pommel horse and all-around titles, while finishing second in the parallel bars and third in the rings, vault and high bars.
For his efforts, Valdez has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
There’s a slight break in Valdez’s competitive schedule for the holidays. His next challenge will be the Brian Babcock Invitational in Allentown, Pennsylvania Jan. 20.
He will also compete in the New Jersey championships in March, the regional championships at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point in April and then hopefully, the Junior Nationals in Cincinnati in May.
Valdez has an ultimate goal in mind _ the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
“I’ll be 17 at that time and just graduating high school,” Valdez said. “Hopefully, I’ll be ready. But that’s what I’m concentrating on, working on. I want to go to the Olympics and I definitely feel it’s a legitimate goal.”
And it’s one worth watching for the next few years, knowing that a budding Olympic star is right in the same neighborhood. It’s definitely a far cry from the hyperactive kid in the playground nine years ago.

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