2-time Olympian Romelio Salas leading young men and women on McDaniel HS wrestling mat

Romelio Salas is a two-time Olympian who has coached high school wrestling in the Portland area for decades.
Published: Aug. 11, 2023 at 6:33 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - Romelio Salas is a two-time Olympian who has coached high school wrestling in the Portland area for decades. FOX 12′s Nick Krupke caught up him at McDaniel High School.

“When you see those little changes, that’s what motivates you to keep doing what you do,” Salas said.

A Spanish and SEL instructor at Tigard High School by day and head wrestling coach at McDaniel High School after the school bell rings.

“I can retire but it’s just that I enjoy what I do so they have to scoop me up from the classroom for me to retire,” he said.

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The 65-year-old from Colombia arrived in Oregon in the late 70s where he became an All-American wrestler at Pacific University for Hall of Fame coach and professor Mike Clock.

“Many athletes, that’s how they find their way out of poverty. For me, that was my path to a better life and that is why I am here and the help of Mike Clock, my second dad,” Salas said.

Salas continues to pay if forward all these years later. Volunteering to keep the mat room open during the summer, it’s where time stands still.

“This has done a lot for me. This is where I find refuge, I forget about everything, the pain goes away,” he said. “I get lost in that world but the moment I am not doing anything of those things, the torment comes back.”

Salas’ torment is from an on-going stomach ailment that causes extreme bloating and has put him through the ringer since 2000.

“They operated on me three times in 60 days. I never thought I was going to make it out of the hospital,” he said.

Twenty-three years later, there’s still no solution to his digestion troubles.

“Every time I go to bed, I am hoping that my stomach is going to be flat the way it was before,” Salas said.

Salas is just back from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and is awaiting test results. One of his former wrestlers has started a GoFundMe for medical expenses.

“I am just wishing that at some point, even if it’s not a cure but they can give me more alleviation so I can live a more comfortable life but as of now, it has been a struggle.”

Coach knows about pain. The 1984 Olympian had his ACL buckle during the third rounds of freestyle in Los Angeles against eventual American gold medalist Dave Schultz.

The two later became training partners at John du Pont’s Foxcatcher Farm, in the lead up to the Barcelona Games of 1992.

“Mr. du Pont, he was kind of a lunatic. I was kind of scared of that guy,” Salas said. “I had the sense that something was about to happen and later we found out that he ended up shooting Dave Schultz.”

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While Salas was the Pan-American gold medalist that season, he did not medal at the Summer Games.

“There were years I used to shed tears just thinking about that,” he said.

Coach’s tears and scars make him the leader he is today.

“Had it not been for this, I think I would be a few feet underground by now because this is my coping mechanism. I have been visited by dark thoughts but then I start analyzing so I don’t dare, I don’t go there,” he said. “I just try to laugh at it and just continue to move forward. It is difficult but I am going to continue to move on.”