Deborah Mango. (inset: Spenser Mango)
By Kay Quinn
St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - Getting cut from the high school football team can haunt a young athlete for the rest of his life.
But NewsChannel 5's Kay Quinn recently spent the morning with the mother of one of our local Olympians, and found out it was probably one of the best things that ever happened to wrestler Spenser Mango.
Deborah Mango sent her son Spenser to high school at CBC. More than anything, she said Spenser wanted to play football.
Then came the day he was cut from the team in ninth grade.
That was the day his health teacher took him to the wrestling room and introduced him to his new sport.
"And I thought oh my God, that's not going to work for Spenser because he was kind of shy, you know and into himself," recalls Deborah Mango. "And I said, he's not going to put on that leotard, talking about the singlet."
But not only did he put on the singlet, Deborah Mango still has news clippings of the conference and state champ wins he racked up all through high school.
Then this mother of three had another surprise: her shy son was drawn to one of the most physical forms of wrestling: Greco Roman.
"The first time he threw somebody, the boy came home he was so ecstatic," says Mango. "'Momma, I lifted this guy and I threw him' and he said, 'Oh man Mom, it was great!'"
But 20 years ago, this mother of three was wrestling with one of life's devastating tragedies.
Her husband, Thomas Mango, was shot and killed on his way to work.
Spenser was just six, his sister Tasha 8 and his brother Ryan just 18 months. Deborah Mango doesn't like to talk about it.
"As time goes on things have a way of, you don't forget but they're easier to accept and deal with," says Mango.
Something she says she and her children have done since Thomas was killed.
During those years, Deborah worked as a registered nurse to support her family, all the while carrying out the plans she and her husband always had for their children to be educated at private schools.
Spenser's Olympic dream began to take shape just three weeks before he was to start college at Truman State.
That's when he was offered a full scholarship at Northern Michigan University's Olympic Training center
"They showed us where it was on a map," says Mango, "and it was a little bitty dot way up in the corner next to Canada. And my son Ryan who was in eighth grade at the time thought I had lost my mind, thought Spenser had lost his mind."
Spenser went to the 2008 Beijing Olympics while there and placed 8th.
He's a member of the United State World Team and the top ranked American in his weight class. When asked about his chances in the 2012 London Olympics, "I feel like it's him time," says Deborah Mango. "When they play that that first place's national anthem you know when they are standing on top of the podium I can't imagine it being my son. It would be great!"
Deborah Mango will be in London to watch her son compete on Sunday.
Spenser Mango also has plans beyond the Olympics.
He joined the Army and is a member of the Army's World Class Athlete Program, and plans to go to officer training school after the games.
He also celebrated his first wedding anniversary about three weeks ago.