By Chris Kaftan
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Four years ago, Roman “Rusty” Nawrocki was the first Tae Kwon Do athlete to represent the United States in the Deaflympics.
His debut was short-lived as he lost his only match. With that, his Deaflympic experience was over.
This time around, Nawrocki returned to the Deaflympics more prepared, with a new coach and with a teammate in tow. Bolstered by coach Keith Young and accompanied by Joseph Santarose, Nawrocki didn’t feel as alone.
Having put in more training and preparation for this Deaflympics, Nawrocki also felt more confident and relaxed.
“I definitely feel different than I did four years ago,” Nawrocki said. “My speed, reaction and techniques are different and more suited for international competition now.” However, Nawrocki again lost his first fight, 12-4, to Osman Gecit of Turkey.
During the bout, Gecit completed a spin-hook kick to Nawrocki’s head to earn the points needed for a major decision – which requires a 12-point margin of victory.
“Even if I lost, I still feel good because I learned something from this match, just like I do with any other match,” Nawrocki said.
Nawrocki felt his offense was on par with Gecit, but his defense was weak, and that cost him the match.
Santarose said that being teammates with Nawrocki in Taekwondo definitely built a bond between the two athletes.
“Rusty has been an amazing teammate,” Santarose said.
Santarose also lost his first fight, to eventual silver-medalist Wonjong Oh, 12-1.
“It was my first international match – ever,” Santarose said. “I was very nervous, but now I know what I need to do to prepare for an international event.”
“The Korean [Oh] had a lot of fans yelling and cheering, so it was overwhelming at first,” Santarose said. “My normal plan is to start on defense, but I wanted to prove I could fight, so I switched to offense and unfortunately I was shut down.”
In spite of their losses, Nawrocki and Santarose vow to return in 2017.
“I’ll definitely be more prepared next time,” Nawrocki said.
“I thought long and hard about it and I decided I’ll be back,” Santarose added. “When I posted on Facebook that I lost, my students and parents were still very proud of me and gave me words of encouragement to not give up.
“So I know I’ll be back.”