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Inside the Heart of a Fighter:
Nick Delpopolo’s Amazing Journey from Orphan to Olympian
July 9, 2012
Article Attributed To: Monta Wiley (USCombatsports.com)
The game of life constructs its own voyage for each individual fighter. Going through a rollercoaster trip of highs and lows it’s no surprise how these warrior’s hearts remain so strong through the storm as they continue to chase their desired goals.
While one fighter’s heart hungers for MMA aspirations and providing a better life for his family, another combatant’s heart pumps profusely for the aim of reaching a feat no American athlete has done before him. When examining the heart of American Judoka Nick Delpopolo it demonstrates the prime example of how a person’s consistency and perseverance can take them to the highest pinnacle in combat sports competition.
Throughout his existence Delpopolo has endured serious poundings on many occasions. However, this anguish has manifested an individual capable of withstanding the brunt of any test thrown at him in his destined pursuit to Judo glory.
Clouded in a sea of fragmented memories born in Niksic, Montenergro young Nicholas (birth name Peter Perovic) would be brought into the world with an ill-fated set of circumstances. Emerging with the absence of his biological birth parents Delpopolo would find himself residing in an orphanage alongside a group of lost adolescences during his early life stages.
His dark days in the rundown home wouldn’t last long though as he would be soon hit with a big flash of light. Searching for a child to call their own the small orphan would be rescued at the age of two into the loving arms of his adopted parents Dominic and Joyce Delpopolo.
Although finally feeling the great sensation of warmth and affection from great guardian figures, even when reflecting back on his days at the orphanage Nick’s heart still bleeds sorrow for the other children that never got the opportunity to experience that great feeling he did.
“I was adopted at age two and had the vaguest of memories about my life in the orphanage that became more vivid when I returned with my parents a few years later to adopt my younger sister Helen,” Delpopolo told USCS Reporter Monta Wiley. “I remember going back to the orphanage and I could tell all the kids there hated me because I had been ‘chosen’ and they were still there.”
“Even 15 years later returning to Montenegro as an adult I have the same feeling. There was a man there who was 20 years old like me, and he had been there ever since he was a baby, at the same time that I was there. It was difficult for him to look at me or speak to me because there was this unknown tension between us that our lives could have been swapped and I could have been the boy who never left the orphanage. I felt guilty; I still do. It’s very difficult for me to talk about.”
Embarking on a new journey, life would dramatically turn for Delpopolo. Now residing in Westfield, New Jersey with his new family Nick would soon be open to a new door of adventure that saw the young child learning many new things, traveling around the world, and even getting the opportunity to attend a very prestigious event that would play a major role in his adult life.
“As a child my Dad brought me to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. I don’t know if there is where I caught the Olympic bug because all I remember about the trip was being cold.”
Fascinated with these infinite possibilities it wouldn’t be long before the heart of Nick Delpopolo would drift toward a favored pastime. Curious and always open minded with vouch approval of his father, Nick would begin his studies in martial arts at five years old. Starting as a Karate student his interest would quickly shift after witnessing the glimpse of bodies being thrown unto the mats in a practice known as Judo.
“I didn’t think too much about Karate and after the class we were leaving and there was a Judo class starting. It was so cool, the kids were throwing each other all around and I was like, ‘Dad I want to do that!’, and before he could even answer me I took my shoes off and joined the class.”
Guided under the watchful eye of Sensei Yoshisada Yonezuka the young child’s devotion for his newfound hobby was returned in the form of countless tournament victories in a six year time span as spectators, peers, and superiors bear witness to the birth of a star in the making.
Evolving rapidly at a very young age the young judo prodigy hungered for more growth in skill level. Hoping to acquire these needed traits his route would take him to Upstate New York where he would find assistance from Olympic Judo silver medalist Jason Morris. The interaction with his new instructor would prove beneficial as Morris’s lessons assisted in Nick’s molding into become a better judo competitor.
“I developed very quickly under Jason and won every Junior National and International event that I competed in. I really believe this helped my Judo immensely as without knowing it I was training like an Olympic athlete.”
Adding on to his Judo arsenal, Delpopolo would also display an interest in practicing wrestling. Although beginning at the age of eight years old the practice would be his prime focus through his conversion into high school. Finding himself in a Deja Vu situation in his new venture by utilizing judo throws combined with his wrestling skills, it would give Nick a serious edge over all his opponents. This advantage would help in his ascent in the ranks, which once again was rewarded with major success and a new alias on the wrestling mat as “Judo Nick”.
A freight train with no stopping point it seemed there was nothing halting Nick Delpopolo. However tragedy would soon befall over him courtesy of a severe injury leaving an unclear future in his athletic career.
“My wrestling career came to an abrupt end after my foot got caught between two Wrestling mats and I tore almost every ligament in my knee. I rehabbed my knee and found that I could no longer get into the deep knees wrestling stance that is a must. This was one of the hardest moments of my adolescence. I set a goal to get a College Wrestling Scholarship and just like that it was over. I was crushed.”
And while the wrestling career may have come to an untimely and unfair conclusion for Delpopolo, his combative sports journey was just about to explode. Check back to US Combat Sports tomorrow for the second half of the Judoka player’s amazing tale.
A damaged heart results from grim situations that puts ones livelihood as athletes in serious jeopardy. With a career threatening injury derailing his wrestling aspirations the athletic future looked all but over for Nick Delpopolo. Instead, these challenges just added to the young competitor’s drive and determination. Not content with being overthrown by this snag in the road, the injury would result in Nick’s return to Judo. Returning to his grappling core under the instruction of Jason Morris, Delpopolo found himself climbing out of the abyss after a three-year absence from the sport.
“It was that injury that pushed me back to Judo and back to live with Jason and Teri in upstate NY. For the first time in my life, when I returned to Judo, I was an underdog.”
Placed in an unheralded position now at the age of 16, Nick’s heart became fully dedicated to once again reaching the sweet taste of success he once had. His comeback would find him reaching a new plateau in his Judo career. Working his way from the ground up Delpopolo resurfaced at local Judo competitions, gradually ascending to higher levels by beating multiple former Judo Olympians and national champs along the way. Ultimately, he earned the privilege to compete in the Judo World Championships and Olympic trials. During the four-year grind period in his ascension to the top Nick’s heart would once again be greatly tested by a number of grueling trials arising in many forms. From bad referee decisions, to battling a sickness, to terrible financial woes, what separates Delpopolo from the normal person is his ability to respond in dire moments of crisis. Never losing sight of his ultimate goal during those trying times shows the virtue of a true champion lusting for success no matter what battle he has to go through to get there.
“My struggles this quad has mostly been off the mat. I had a bad patch in 2009 and I just didn’t feel right and was dropping matches to players I shouldn’t and eventually I went to the doctors and it was revealed that I had been competing with Mono without knowing it.”
“Financial troubles have definitely been the biggest hurdle for me. The U.S. government is one of the only governments in the world that does not fund its athletes and my parents, my girlfriend and myself have literally maxed out every credit card we own to get me to the tournaments I needed to go to qualify for London. It seems like my bank account has been in the negatives a lot more than the positives for the last four years!”
The culmination of hard work and dedication has led Delpopolo to achieving the rank as the top Judo competitor in the United States and 16th best in the World in the 73 kg division. Defeating all opposition, “Judo Nick” now finds himself on a destined trip back to a familiar place he once visited as a kid.
As a proud member of the Team USA, Delpopolo will be participating in the upcoming 2012 Olympic Games in London, England. Representing his country proudly and eager to showcase his talents on the grand stage the Olympian goes in with his sights set on cementing a historical moment in not only his career but also for American Judo.
“The Olympics were always my goal and in my heart I have always believed I was going to make it regardless of who was standing across the mat from me,” said Depopolo. “I don’t get nervous when I compete; I get excited that I get a chance to show everyone what I can do. It’s about being the best, doing something no American has ever done and doing it in the deepest weight class. I love this country and everything it represents and it motivates me to realize that the gold medal wouldn’t just be mine, it would be America’s.”
Heart in competition evolves around the ability to muster up the inner strength to overcome any obstacle put in front of you. Looking inside the heart of Delpopolo one will see that he has ignored doubt, is familiar with adversity, and most importantly is someone that holds no uncertainty within himself about the limitless potential he has at becoming the best.
“The difference between me and most people is that I have the courage of my convictions and even if something is the unpopular thing I will do what’s right and not go with the crowd. I’ve known a lot of people that let things happen to them and complain about it to anyone who will listen behind closed doors but never say a peep publicly because they don’t have the courage to make waves."
“I want those people to know that although they outnumber me, they can’t break me. I want all the people who have been routing against me to know that they are why I made it. I was told I was “all done” and I was going to be a nobody and look at me now. I’m just getting started.”