We’ve heard of boxers coming out of the Bronx (Jake LaMotta, anyone?), but a gymnast? No joke. At 19, John Orozco is one of the youngest U.S. athletes in London. And with 10 national and world championships medals under his belt, the star of the video for the hit Gym Class Heroes song “The Fighter” is certainly one to watch. As he looks forward to tomorrow’s all-around competition, we talked with him about motivation, nicknames and yogurt.
MADE MAN: You grew up in the Bronx. How many other kids were traveling 30 miles back and forth to gymnastics practice everyday?
JOHN OROZCO: [Laughs] I was definitely the only kid. There were some early mornings and long days spent sitting in traffic, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. Fortunately, it was a sacrifice my mother was willing to make as well.
MM: How did you get started?
JO: When I was eight, my dad was working for the Department of Sanitation in Manhattan. One day he saw a sign [for free gymnastics classes]. We went in the next day, and I fell in love with it. I knew it was something I wanted to do for a long time.
If it makes you happy, you shouldn’t care what anyone else thinks. Stick with what you love and you will be happy and successful.
MM: Did other kids give you a hard time? How did you respond?
JO: I got some slack from the other kids, for sure. Name calling and teasing. But it’s not anything that a kid doesn’t go through in his life. I was lucky to have my family there to help me get through it. I tried to always be the bigger person and not let them bring me down.
MM: Any advice for a guy whose passion is different from his buddies’?
JO: If it makes you happy, you shouldn’t care what anyone else thinks. Stick with what you love and you will be happy and successful.
MM: Has overcoming tearing your Achilles in 2010 made you a stronger competitor?
JO: In some ways. If it wasn’t for my injury, I probably wouldn’t be as strong in some of my events as I am now. It gave me an opportunity to develop in my weaker areas, that I didn’t really need my Achilles for.
MM: It obviously takes incredible strength to be a gymnast; what keeps you motivated and going to the gym?
JO: On rough days, it’s the fact that I have come this far already and I am not going to let it go to waste. I have put my whole life into this sport and I want it to mean something.
MM: What role does your sponsor Chobani Greek Yogurt play in your regimen?
JO: A huge role! My diet was terrible when I first got to USOTC. Being hungry late at night was the worst—I was snacking on everything I probably shouldn’t have. One of the dieticians advised me to start eating Chobani instead. It’s great because it is healthy and packed full of protein. Aside from helping my diet, they help me out so much. They are paying my parents’ way to London, and I am really grateful for that.
MM: Favorite flavor?
JO: Either Mango or Strawberry. I like mixing different flavors together.
MM: Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
JO: My parents. I know it’s a generic answer, but it’s the truth. They have been through a lot. My mom has been diagnosed with life-altering illnesses, but she still gets up every morning, makes me breakfast, and helps me get to practice. If she can do all that, I can do my best and put forth the effort at practices.
MM: You’re 19. What do you do for fun besides the pommel horse?
JO: I love making videos for YouTube. People seem to like them too. Other than that, normal teenager stuff: going to the mall, watching movies.
MM: Speaking of videos, how was starring in the Gym Class Heroes video for “The Fighter”?
JO: It was a really cool experience, I am glad I got the opportunity to do that. Everyone was really laid back. The camera guy would just point and say, “Show me some skills!” It was also cool filming the shots in my neighborhood—very nostalgic and emotional.
MM: “The Fighter” we get, but how exactly did you get the nickname, “Kung Fu Panda”?
JO: My teammates on the 2011 World Team kept calling me that, and it stuck. In practice I am not very talkative—very serious and focused. They also call me the Silent Ninja because I can be way behind in competition and then come out of nowhere.
MM: Do you ever do sweet gymnastics moves at parties just to show off?
JO: I am not trying to hurt myself!
UPDATE: Orozco finished 8th in the all-around. The experience should serve him well in Rio in 2016.