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Cerritos College wrestler Tom’s long road to recovery nearly complete

Keanu Tom and his 11-year old brother Koa Ruiz. Tom tore his ACL his senior year in high school and put everything he could muster both physically and mentally into nearly a year’s worth of rehab. Tom is now ranked No. 1 in the state at 157 pounds in his second year at Cerritos College.

Keanu Tom and his 11-year old brother Koa Ruiz. Tom tore his ACL his senior year in high school and put everything he could muster both physically and mentally into nearly a year’s worth of rehab. Tom is now ranked No. 1 in the state at 157 pounds in his second year at Cerritos College.

By Brian Reed-Baiotto

Keanu Tom was a runner-up in the 2011 CIF-Southern Section Inland Division 135-pound wrestling finals to eventual state champion Chris Mecate of Redlands East Valley High School. After falling in the ninth-place match a week later at the Masters Meet, a victory that would have qualified Tom for the CIF State Meet in Bakersfield, he returned to Los Alamitos High in 2012 for his senior year as one of the area’s top stars.

But as fate had it, Tom tore his right ACL just one month into the season and his prep career was over. Facing the steep, uphill climb and rehabilitation that would stretch well beyond his days at Los Alamitos, many athletes in his shoes, let alone in a sport that demands so much physically, would call it a career and focus on college and prepare for an eventual career.

But Tom put everything he could muster both physically and mentally into nearly a year’s worth of rehab and is now ranked No. 1 in the state at 157 pounds in his second year at Cerritos College for the state’s top-ranked program.

Tom, who finished fifth at state last season, is 31-1 this season for ninth-year Falcons coach Donny Garriott, including tournament titles at the West Hills, Santa Ana and Mt. San Antonio College Invitational meets. His only setback was a recent 3-2 semifinal loss to Adrian Gomez in Fresno, despite having defeated Gomez twice this season in the West Hills finals and Santa Ana semifinals.

The disappointment, though, could very well serve as a wake-up call as regionals take place on Dec. 6 at Cerritos College, and then Tom goes for his ultimate goal of winning a state championship the weekend of Dec. 12-13 at Cuesta College. Perhaps the most impressive fact in Tom’s journey to redemption is that he’s not only back after such a major injury, it’s that he’s even better than during his banner days at Los Alamitos, and for coach Kenny Torres.

But it hasn’t come easy. His collegiate career thus far has produced 68 wins in 73 matches.

“I was in so much pain after the surgery and couldn’t walk for three months,” Tom said. “The doctor told me I should pick a new sport. But I love doing this too much. I used (Olympic champion) Jordan Burroughs’ rehab program and it helped me get back sooner than expected.”

Cerritos also boasts former local CIF individual champions AJ McKee (Long Beach Poly) and Robert Chism (Downey), as well as state qualifiers Randy Howe and Max Kumashiro. Both Howe and Kumashiro were teammates of Tom at Los Alamitos.

Tom gives credit not only for his return, but also his ascension to parents Rick Ruiz and Lana Olotoa, the Cerritos College staff and teammates and coaching brothers Dan and Pat Cadwallader. He also trains every day with New York native and 174-pound teammate Dylan Clarke.

“Keanu works hard every day, is a great teammate and I think we make each other better,” Clarke said.

Tom’s primary recipe for staying injury-free the last two seasons are not only his diet, but his six days-a-week training. A typical day, to stay at or below the 157 pounds, includes the following daily menu: two egg whites and ground beef for breakfast. He snacks every three hours, has a post-workout protein shake and then a “fist full” of whatever his mother makes him for dinner.

As difficult as it is to stay disciplined and under weight, he’s not about to complain.

“I deal with it like I have to,” he said. “It’s something that has to be done, and I look at it like a homework assignment.”

Cerritos is in Spokane, Washington over the weekend for both team duals and an individual tournament. In fact, the Falcons take on Northern Idaho College, the nation’s top-ranked program in a team dual.

Tom hopes for not only individual success, but he and the rest of the Falcons hope to give Garriott his first state title on Dec. 13. Cerritos has finished twice on three occasions and could see as many as five individual state champions in McKee, Kumashiro, Chism, Tom and Dustin Kirk.

“Keanu is a great kid and he’s a much more complete wrestler than he was in high school,” Garriott said. “I think what I appreciate most about him is he’s always wanting to learn and get better daily. He could very well win a state championship in a few weeks, and I know he can wrestle at any level in college.”

Tom has received interest from a number of schools, but said his dream fit would be wrestling at Arizona State University. Aside from his own wrestling career and maintaining his 3.5 grade point average, Tom’s other passion is coaching his 11-year old brother, Koa Ruiz, who is No. 3 in the nation at 80 pounds.

While there are still a few weeks to go in the season, Tom already knows what he wants to be remembered for.

“I’d like to be remembered as a guy who, even when facing the longest odds, picked himself back up and ended up being better for it,” Tom said. “Someone who worked as hard as anyone and was always there for my teammates.”

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