HOLIDAY CLASSIC: Alex Herrera back on mat for Sunrise Mountain

If Sunrise Mountain wrestling coach Derek Lopez had his way, he would have Alex Herrera walking around in a hazmat suit.

Two years ago, prior to the Division I-A Southern Region tournament as a freshman, Herrera came down with shingles and was unable to compete. Immediately following last year’s regional event, at which he qualified for the state tournament by finishing fourth in the 170-pound class, he contracted ringworm, which developed into impetigo, and was unable to wrestle for a state title.

Then, six weeks into the offseason, when most wrestlers put in their hardest work to prepare the following high school campaign, an MRI revealed Herrera had a torn labrum in both shoulders.

The right side from wrestling, and left side from pole vaulting.

Talk about Murphy’s law, this kid was abiding by it.

He had surgery on the right shoulder in April and after six weeks of physical therapy, had surgery on the left shoulder before going through another six weeks of recovery.

“It was difficult, because he works so hard,” Lopez said this week, “He’s there every day, he’ll mop the mats, he’ll do whatever he needs to do to make things happen. And to get cut short like that, and have all the issues he’s had is heartbreaking for him.”

Herrera, who said he has no problem mopping mats if it keeps any skin fungus out of the Miners’ wrestling room, said he is back to 100 percent and is preparing for another long season in a highly competitive 182-pound weight class. This weekend he’s getting a heavy dose of tough competition by wrestling in the Las Vegas Holiday Classic at the South Point Arena. The highly prestigious tournament began Friday and concludes Saturday.

Herrera, who is wrestling in the 184-pound class at the LVHC, won his first match Friday, pinning Victor Valley (California) wrestler Christopher Breitenbach in 2 minutes, 34 seconds.

He dropped his second-round match when he was pinned in 3:33 by Michael Ramirez of Golden Valley (California), but rebounded to win three consolation matches.

“I’ve been looking forward to seeing some of the really tough guys from around the country and being able to wrestle those high-level teams,” said Herrera, who didn’t start wrestling until high school. “I definitely don’t get to see those nationally ranked guys out here in Las Vegas, so I’ve been excited to able to see those guys and wrestle with them.”

It’s all he’s thought about since recuperating from both surgeries. Herrera said while his arm was in a sling, and he couldn’t do anything except rest and envision what he would do as soon as he returned to the mat. He would log in to FloWrestling’s website and “watch videos for hours at a time” to study the best of the best.

“He was doing everything he could, trying to find things to make him better even though he couldn’t physically do it,” Lopez said.

The eldest of three brothers, his determination and indomitable spirit comes as no surprise after being raised by a single mother his entire life.

Jessica Howard, a former swimmer for Eldorado High School, said it was devastating to watch her son kept from fulfilling a dream, but she is continually amazed and motivated by how hard he’s worked during this comeback.

“All the curveballs he’s been hit with, he still takes it in stride and keeps on going,” Howard said. “He just sets more goals and doesn’t stop. His heart is in this, it makes him happy. And my job is to support him.”

Which isn’t always easy as a registered nurse for a pharmaceutical research company. Her hours can be long at times, which means she doesn’t get to see all his matches. Herrera said some of proudest and most heartfelt moments are the phone calls he makes to his mother right after he wrestles.

“I call after every match to talk about what happened,” Herrera said. “I love telling her, I’m really excited when I call her cause I know she’s my No. 1 fan. I’ve learned from her not to give up on anything.

“Being a single mom, she’s obviously determined to do good for my brothers and I, and I think I’ve picked that up. I’ve always been determined with whatever I do.”

Even if that means overcoming shingles, ringworm, impetigo and two shoulder surgeries — all within a matter of 18 months.

“Sometimes I forget I’m out here to have fun when I’m wrestling and I just have to realize that instead of being intimidated by whatever or whomever is in my way, I just go out there and do my thing and have fun while I’m out there,” Herrera said. “Sunrise Mountain isn’t really known for wrestling, and I’d like to set an example for the upcoming generations of wrestlers we have, so we can someday maybe have a big and really strong program and possibly (be) looked up to.”

NOTES — Poway (California) led the tournament after the opening day with 131 points. Green Valley was second with 124, and Curtis (Washington was third with 116).