Reza Abedi's Greatest Escape

A local high-school-wrestling coach gave up his Olympic dreams to flee Khomeini's Iran

He returned to Austria. At a gas station one evening, he started chatting with the attendant. After some small talk, Abedi told the man he was trying to smuggle his friend's family across the border to Germany. The man sympathized and told him to return after his shift.

They had dinner at his grandmother's house, and then they took a drive. The man said he had some friends who might be able to help.

When they walked into the apartment, Abedi immediately second-guessed his decision to trust the man. Three men were sitting on the couch in front of a table, on which lines of cocaine were arranged on a mirror beside a couple of handguns. The friends were drug dealers. "I thought they were going to kill me," he recalls.

A gold medal is forever, especially with Abedi's story
Kevin Derek
A gold medal is forever, especially with Abedi's story
Abedi (center, in the blue shirt) demonstrates for his Dana Hills High team
Kevin Derek
Abedi (center, in the blue shirt) demonstrates for his Dana Hills High team

Location Info

Map

Paradise Perks Coffee & Espresso Bar

15474 Jeffrey Road
Irvine, CA 92618

Category: Coffee Shops

Region: Irvine

Village Book Exchange

99 Avenida Serra
San Clemente, CA 92672

Category: Retail

Region: San Clemente

Details

American Wings; Iranian Roots by Kristin Orloff; Direct Author. Available at www.americanwingsiranianroots.com.

Abedi and Orloff will sign copies of the book at Paradise Perks, www.paradiseperks.com. June 26, 5 p.m.
And at Village Book Exchange. July 2, 2 p.m.

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SLIDESHOW: Click here to see more images of Reza Bedi
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The man introduced Abedi and told his story. Maps were laid out, and the men pointed out various possible routes. They were constantly mixing up which route they took across the border in order to evade officials, but they had a few they had not yet used that they believed would work for Abedi and his family.

Abedi made his way to Salzburg. The ground was covered in snow, and there were points where he had to climb. Beyond the German border, he located a train station.

Abedi says he managed to sneak into the detention center where his family members were awaiting their release and walk out the front door with them. It was the middle of winter, and they had no warm clothes. Abedi had been wearing the same pair of jeans and a red sweater since he left Brussels. They began the hike anyway.

The pace was slow. His sister had broken her foot, and it was hurting; plus, all his years as a smoker were catching up to Abedi's father in the high altitude and zero-degree wind chill. Midway up the mountain, his father collapsed. Knowing the only hope was to get into Germany, Abedi put his father over his shoulder and carried him, just as he used to do while training for wrestling in Iran. Every half-mile, the group would stop to rest; after four hours, the train station was in sight.

Abedi raced back to his car. He was running hard and nearing exhaustion and at times found himself rolling down the snow-covered hills. He managed to get to the car in 45 minutes. After composing and cleaning himself up, he drove through the border, bought train tickets and watched his family members pull away from the station, headed for Frankfurt.

Forty-five days after his sister's initial call, Abedi arrived back at Los Angles International Airport. When he passed through customs and saw his girlfriend waiting, he dropped to his knees, touched his forehead to the ground and cried.

*     *     *

In 1992, he accepted his first teaching job. That first year at Ayala High in Chino Hills was tough. Along with teaching a few periods of Spanish, he also helped with the wrestling team.

One weekend in the summer of 1994, while visiting his then-wife's parents, who had just bought a house in Dana Point, he passed by Dana Hills High and saw a sign for a job fair. He loved the pace and aesthetics of the city, as well as its proximity to the beach, so he decided to give it a chance. The principal liked Abedi but didn't have any openings that fit his credentials. "I was disappointed, but at least I still had a job," he explains.

A month later, the principal called with an offer: two periods of Spanish, two periods of P.E. and the opportunity to take over the struggling wrestling program. He accepted the job and has been with the school ever since.

His first year there, eight guys came out for the wrestling team. By the late '90s, when the team was dominating competitions in the South Coast League, the program regularly had 80 coming out every season. "Ninety-five percent of the guys who came out as freshman had zero experience in wrestling," which made Abedi's job more difficult. Over time, he groomed a set of coaches—all former athletes of his—and implemented a brutal raining regime.

"My dad runs one of the toughest practices around," says Kamron. "When people see Dana Hills, they know who we are because they know about Coach Abedi. The program is what it is because of him. If he quit today, the program would be done."

Early in his coaching career, Abedi would line the entire team up against the wall and take on each one. "I'd kick all their asses," he says, with a huge smile and a chuckle. "I always save the heavyweights for last."

Now, he lets his assistant coaches do the hands-on work. He'll step in and demonstrate, but live wrestling is rare.

As it has since he was 11, wrestling consumes Abedi's life. Beyond the high-school team, he also just started up a youth program, the Dana Point Wrestling Club. Two days a week, kids from 4 to 13 years old come into the wrestling room, and Abedi, Kamron and other guys from the team work with them. He's hoping this will be the feeder program he has always wanted. Among the young kids picking up the sport is Abedi's youngest son, Kian.

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