Isaiah Diggs remembers waking up to his mother’s crying and trying to go back to sleep.
In the morning, when 10-year-old Isaiah awoke, his father, Reginald Leonard Diggs, was gone at age 42. A heart attack had claimed his life that night in March 2007.
The memory of his father has never left Isaiah, who carried on with his faith in God and a fighting spirit.
Diggs carries that same determined mindset into one of the biggest competitive weekends of his life. The Decatur High School wrestler hopes to endure a tough bracket at 138 pounds and come out on top Friday and Saturday at Mat Classic XXVI in the Tacoma Dome.
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Diggs (33-3) would like nothing more than to be able to win a state championship for his father.
“He’s my inspiration. … I carry his middle and last name, so I just want to make him proud,” said Diggs, who started wrestling in seventh grade at Federal Way’s Saghalie Middle School.
“He wouldn’t want me to give up. He would’ve never given up in anything he did. Everyone around me has always just told me to keep fighting every day.”
The memory of Diggs’ father and his encouraging words are on Isaiah’s mind. He wears embroidered reminders on his wrestling shoes: “R.L. Diggs” on the inside and “1965-2007” on the outside.
“I still feel like I have him behind me,” said Diggs, who wears a T-shirt with his dad’s picture on it during matches. “If I’m tired, I feel like I have him there pushing me.”
This weekend at Mat Classic could become a joyous time for Diggs and his supporters. The Gators’ standout has inspiration all around him. The loss of his father, the terminal illness of his good friend Dominique Cooks and his mother’s joy all provide a push.
Diggs, ranked No. 2 among Class 3A 138-pounders behind Mountain View’s Kenji Yamashita, finished third at 132 last season. He wants more.
At a shade under 5 feet, 5 inches, Diggs looks up to most of his opponents, but he takes them down with speed, fast moves and fitness.
When Diggs is wheeling his childhood buddy, Cooks, around in a wheelchair at school, he knows he’s fortunate. Cooks has an inoperable brain tumor.
“He just keeps fighting despite his cancer,” Diggs said. “He always has a smile on his face. I try to stay positive. I pray for him every night. It shows me you never know what can happen to you.”
Sophomore teammate Leviticus Arizpe, who is 37-1 and one of the state-title contenders at 126, knows the feeling. Arizpe lost his father, Frederick Joseph Arizpe, on Aug. 26, 2012 to a liver ailment.
“My Dad always told me to leave my mark and make people remember me,” said Arizpe, ranked No. 3 at 126 in 3A behind Shorewood’s Matthew Floresca and University of Spokane’s Cam Sorensen. “I never think that I’m by myself out there on the mat.”
Arizpe, whose lone loss this season was to Lakes’ Andrew Ramirez 8-6 in the South Puget Sound League (SPSL) 3A subregional 126 final, appreciates knowing he’s not alone.
“Isaiah and I have talked about it … and he was there to tell me that he’s been through that pain,” said Arizpe, who wears his father’s name and “1954-2012” on his wrestling shoes. “It was not just a teammate comforting me, but a friend. It’s nice to know someone else is there.”