When John Orozco tore his right Achilles on Aug. 11, 2010, a doctor told him he probably shouldn’t do gymnastics anymore, and he probably would not be going to the Olympics.
Orozco competed 11 months later, won the U.S. all-around title in 2012 and earned a place on the London Olympic team.
When Orozco tore his right Achilles for a second time on June 15, he was told he’d be out about one year.
“I said, ‘That’s the wrong answer again,'” Orozco recalled last month.
He threw a pity party for two weeks after the setback and then refocused, writing out the skills he planned for Rio and getting to work.
Orozco, 22, was cleared in mid-November to return to gymnastics and continues to make progress, re-learning routines this fall, evidenced by his social media videos.
“I’ll be back in six months, pretty much,” Orozco said in November, crediting an aggressive doctor who performed the surgery. “That’s like, unheard of for an Achilles. It’s usually a solid year. I literally cut it in half. I owe that to sports medicine at the Olympic training center [in Colorado Springs].”
Orozco said he planned to compete in the Winter Cup in Las Vegas from Feb. 18-20, though taking it easy on vault and perhaps not doing floor exercise, the apparatus on which he suffered the injury in training.
He expects to compete on all six events at the P&G Championships and the Olympic trials in June, after which the five-man Olympic team will be named.
It would be an incredible comeback. Orozco said his toughest injury return actually came in 2013, when, one year after tearing an ACL, he won his first individual World Championships medal — bronze on parallel bars.
This year, Orozco couldn’t walk for about a month and a half after the Achilles tear. He was then fitted in a walking boot and said he almost cried when he took his first steps in Colorado while his training partners competed at the P&G Championships in Indianapolis in August.
“Everyone’s competing to go to Worlds, and I’m like, I took my first step,” Orozco joked.
The U.S. team at the World Championships in late October was without Olympians Sam Mikulak, Jacob Dalton and Orozco, the top three finishers in the all-around at the 2014 P&G Championships.
There was concern the depleted Americans might not finish in the top eight in the team standings at Worlds, which would have forced them to try and qualify for the Olympics in April.
The U.S. made it easily, though, taking fifth, just as it did with Mikulak, Dalton and Orozco at London 2012 (though the Olympic finish was largely seen as a disappointment).
“I kind of checked out, because it’s hard for me to watch,” Orozco said of Worlds. “I always feel like, man, I should be there.”
If Orozco makes it back to the Olympics, he promises it will be a different experience. Everything unraveled in London, when Orozco fell off pommel horse in the team final and erred again on the apparatus in the all-around, finishing eighth when he would have taken silver had he repeated his qualifying pommel horse score.
The Bronx native has since worked on mental preparation with a sports psychologist. His new outlook?
“I honestly would not be saddened if I didn’t medal, but I gave it my best shot and I had my best performance,” Orozco said.
Orozco would bring with him to Rio a lucky charm — a rosary blessed by a priest at his Catholic school back home given to him by his mother, Damaris, who died in February.
“I bring it everywhere that I go,” Orozco said. “Having my rosary reminds me of my mom and having her there with me.”
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