Athlete shares hometown wrestler’s setbacks, successes

The writer (right) with his dear friend, Youssif Hemida, at the University of Maryland, College Park, in the summer of 2016. Courtesy of Nick Lee

Two-time NCAA All-American and U23 World Championships runner-up Youssif Hemida has overcome many obstacles, both on and off the wrestling mat. In high school, the fate of Hemida’s wrestling career was called into question multiple times due to serious physical injuries. Last October, Hemida faced his most difficult challenge, when his mother and grandfather passed away within two days of each other.

While he has faced many difficulties during his journey, time and time again he has demonstrated his resiliency and passion for wrestling. Growing up alongside him in Mamaroneck, New York, I have continuously been inspired by his character and what he has accomplished in the face of adversity.

In high school, his goal was to be a state champion. Unfortunately for Hemida, he would face multiple setbacks due to injuries.

Junior year, while in a pre-season practice, he fractured the C6 cervical bone in his neck. He was put in a neck brace and told that his recovery period would be at least 10 weeks, which meant he could not compete for the majority of the season.

Beyond the disappointment that came with not being able to compete, “Simple tasks such as eating, sleeping or just trying to look to the side were all a burden” explained Hemida. The thought of never setting foot on the wrestling mat again crept into his mind.

As challenging as this period of time was for him, he still went on to make a full recovery and began wrestling before the regular season ended. He competed in—and won—his last regular season match.

And he continued to win.

Despite only wrestling in one regular season match, he took first in the postseason divisional tournament. Then, as the 13th seed in the sectional tournament, he again placed first, becoming the school’s first-ever wrestling section champion. In the New York State Championships that followed, he placed seventh.

Following his success at the State Championships, Hemida continued to train during the offseason. Before the season began in his senior year of high school, he wrote one line to himself, which he put above his desk. It read, “undefeated state champion.”

With that note to himself in mind, Hemida would go on to achieve his goal. He went undefeated his senior-year season, winning the New York State Championships. Overcome with joy and excitement, he was barely able to sleep that night. The recovery from injuries, the multiple practices a day, the traveling and all the other sacrifices that he had made culminated into this victory. “It was all worth it,” he stated.

After graduating from Mamaroneck High School, Hemida went on to continue wrestling at the University of Maryland, College Park. Under the mentorship of his head coach, Kerry McCoy, he felt that he could reach his full potential as an athlete. By his sophomore-year season, Hemida had made a name for himself on the national level. He went 23-13 and qualified for the NCAA tournament. His junior year would prove to be more successful. He finished the season with 30 wins and eight losses and placed eighth in the NCAA tournament, achieving All-American status.

Despite his outstanding season, Hemida was still not satisfied. He did not just want to be a top wrestler nationally, he wanted to be one of the best wrestlers in the world. This past summer, he earned a spot to compete in the U23 World Championships. The tournament was to be held in Bucharest, Romania, in November of 2018, and he would be representing Team USA.

But in the weeks prior to the Championships, his circumstances drastically changed. Early in 2018, his mom began to suffer from a recurrence of cancer and an infection that spread to her lungs. When he was notified that his mother was in a hospital in New York City, Hemida traveled from Maryland to visit her. “I was used to seeing my mom in the hospital,” said Hemida, as he discussed his mother’s previous battle with cancer. He was confident that her health would improve.

However, her health continued to decline. In early October she was moved to an intensive care unit. As her condition worsened, Hemida’s worries escalated. He began to travel from Maryland to New York multiple times a week. He felt overwhelmed as he struggled to come to terms with his mother’s health, while trying to keep up with his academics and prepare for the World Championships.

On October 23, 2018, his mother passed away, two days after the sudden death of her father. “We didn’t tell her about her father’s death before she passed. In the state she was in, we thought that it would break her.” The loss of his grandfather and his mother over the course of two days was what Hemida described as “the worst week of my life.”

Despite the emotional toll this took on Hemida, he remained eager to compete in Romania. “My mom would have wanted for me to wrestle,” he explained. So, he did just that. In early November, he flew out to Romania, with his coaches beside him. After a grueling week of competition, he earned a silver medal at the 2018 U23 World Championships in the heavyweight division, demonstrating that he was one of the best wrestlers in the world for his age group.

In his final collegiate season, Hemida went 21-9 and again achieved NCAA All-American status. Glued to my computer screen, I watched as he placed sixth at the NCAA tournament, marking his best performance there in his collegiate career. Although his time wrestling with the Terrapins has ended, his career is far from over.

When reflecting on the many obstacles he has faced, Hemida expressed, “Challenges can serve as opportunities to learn about yourself and grow. For me personally, some of my most difficult moments in the past have motivated me to work hard and become the best version of myself.”

Moving forward, Hemida hopes to embody his mother’s work ethic. “She was selfless. She was always working for us to provide my older sister and me with opportunity, up until the moment she couldn’t physically work anymore.”

Hemida continues to look to the future to see where his wrestling will take him. “My champ,” his mother would call him, regardless of the outcome of his wrestling matches. A true winner at heart, he carries these two words from his mother with him as a constant reminder of how far he has come and how much he still has left to achieve.

One Comment

  1. I have known Youssif since he was about 7years old,I have never met a more determined young man in all my life.I watched him blossom into a fine young man despite all the obsticals in his young life.I attribute all to his upbringing. HE has very supporting parents who have encouraged him greatly to become the man he has successfully grown into. HE will definitely succeed in anything he sets his mind too.I AM SO PROUD TO BE HIS NEIGHBOR AND GOOD FRIEND.

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