When Archbishop Spalding wrestler Logan Breitenbach got off the plane in Maracaibo, Venezuela, he faced a new reality even before he got to the arena for the 2012 Cadet Pan Am Championships, where he won the gold medal in his 152-pound class.
Everywhere isn't like home in Severna Park. And when he did get to the arena, he learned everyone doesn't love American athletes.
"When I landed in Venezuela it was a culture shock," he said Tuesday, a day after returning home from the trip that also took him to Fargo, North Dakota for the USA Wrestling Junior & Cadet National Championships and celebrating his 17th birthday.
"The city was something to get used to," he said. "It was more of a poor town. There were things I'm not used to seeing -- a lot of trash on the streets, no big houses were some of them."
The hotel was modern and comfortable.
"It was the only thing that wasn't a big surprise," Breitenbach said. "We were very blessed to be staying there."
But while the arena was "OK," according to Breitenbach, it didn't have air conditioning.
"The temperature was close to 100 degrees," he said. "It was something to get used to."
Asked if the 100-degree days in Maryland before he left had helped, the rising junior laughed.
"Yeah," he said. "But the heat in the building was still something to get used to."
Breitenbach wrestled four matches July 13 to win the gold for Team USA. He said he's wrestled more than that in a single day, but what was really different was when the entire arena erupted in cheers at the end of the first period of his first match when his Colombian opponent won the first two-minute test.
"I was really nervous at the start," he said. "And I was the first match for the U.S. I remember when the other guy scored on me everyone cheered for him. Everyone was against the U.S. I realized they didn't want to see us win. It inspired me. I turned it up after that, won the next two periods and was ready to go get the gold."
What it meant to win the gold didn't really hit him until he got home. Because he was also going to compete in Fargo a couple days after the Pan American games, he missed the Pan Am gold medal ceremony.
While medals were being handed out, Breitenbach was on a 24-hour mission, flying from Venezuela to Fargo by way of Miami and Chicago.
"It wasn't until I got home and was sitting on the couch, holding the medal that it hit me," he said. "I just felt a sense of pride -- not just for myself, but for my country, as well. I've never felt that before."
In Fargo, another tough tournament -- perhaps the hardest he'd ever faced -- was waiting. While he was emotionally spent, dehydrated and tired from his efforts in Venezuela, as well as flying around the clock to get there, Breitenbach made no excuses.
After arriving, he had one day to cut his weight to make the 145-pound weight class.
"I don't want to make excuses," he said. "I just didn't compete or perform the way I needed to. I was feeling good enough, but I didn't place."
In the Greco-Roman competition he lost his first match, but then won three straight before losing to the eventual class finalist. In freestyle, for which he hadn't trained, he won his first match, but then lost his next two to be eliminated.
"The entire experience was great," he said. "And we had a really great group of guys on the team in Fargo, a group of really talented kids. It was great just to be part of it."
At Fargo, the Maryland team had its best-ever performance with 15 competitors winning 21 All-American honors. The team finished No. 8 overall in Junior Greco.
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