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John Orozco: Time To Play Tourist

By John Orozco, 2012 U.S. Olympic Gymnast | Nov. 12, 2014, 6:38 p.m. (ET)

Sugarloaf mountain

Picasso's "The Red Armchair" painting

After a successful bronze-medal finish in the team competition at the 2014 World Championships, I decided it was time for a long-awaited break away from the gym. So I ventured out to cities I’ve never been to before and spent quality time with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. Since I was young, I always had a deep appreciation for the arts in its many forms. With this thought in mind I chose to visit Chicago to see the Art Institute and explore the city’s points of interest. As a native New Yorker from the “big” city, I expected lot of similarities.

I flew into the Chi-town late in the evening and instead of taking a cab to my hotel like I originally planned to, I decided to jump on the transit just to experience it and compare it to the NYC transit system. I actually lucked out by taking the train since it seemed like the traffic in the evening time was just as congested as NYC.  I’ll spare you the details, but there was a series of events that led me to spend the majority of my first night in Chicago hotel hopping to three different hotels before settling down at the Palmer House (a Hilton Hotel). This was NOT how I planned to spend my first night of vacation, but all was well and I finally settled in. Once hunger got to the best of me, I decided to eat at RPM Italian restaurant. The restaurant’s décor was sleek, stylish and sophisticated with amazing food selections, but of course I just went with a classic pepperoni pizza, which could very well be the only motivation to bring me back here!

The "Bean" at Millennium Park

The next day I visited The Art Institute of Chicago and enjoyed the amazing collection of various art pieces. Paintings, sculptures, statues, etc. — they were all very inspiring to see and learn about. As a big fan of splashy, vibrant color combinations and unique patterns/shapes, my favorite style of art would have to be Modern Art. My favorite piece of art was a painting that I saw on display by legendary artist Pablo Picasso called “The Red Armchair.” Next I strolled around Millennium Park admiring the amazing and creative sculptures and attractions. Of course I had to get a few pictures with one of Chicago’s biggest tourist attractions, the “Bean”, but you know I had to bust out the gymnastics poses for the occasion! The last night I stayed in Chicago my friend insisted I eat at his family’s Italian restaurant. It was the perfect way to end my visit to Chicago — amazing hospitality and a classic, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza dinner. After my first trip to Chicago I definitely wouldn’t mind visiting again sometime soon.

Deep dish pizza

I spent the last half of my week visiting friends at Northern Michigan University, all of which happen to be national team members of the U.S. men’s Greco-Roman wrestling team. My first night at the university I had dinner with almost the entire wrestling team and was introduced to cheese curds for the first time! They took me on a tour of the entire campus the next day. I met a few of my friends’ professors and actually got to join them in one of their classes. I had never experienced a live college class, since I do my college online for convenience. It may not seem exciting to a lot of people, but to me it was great change to be around people learning together.

Since it was late October, there was a live production in town for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and it just so happened that two of my friends were going to be ushering at the event. I had never been to a show or seen the movie so this was a great chance to see what all the fuss was about.

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

My friends informed me to dress in a crazy outfit to fit the theme of the show. So I assembled the tackiest outfit I could to attend the show. The show took place in a small theater in Northern Michigan and quite a few characters piled into the theatre eager to see the show. Before the show had begun they had a costume contest on stage for all of the audience members attending the show. My friends nudged me to go up on stage and participate, so I sprung up on stage and got in line for the contest. They played music while everyone showed off their costume and personality one by one. The competition was strong with some very intricate costumes and unique characters. When it was my turn to show off my costume, I jumped out center stage and busted out with a back handspring first, then broke out the flairs on the ground, and ended with a back tuck. The crowd erupted! It felt similar to competing at world championships and finishing a hit routine. They did a crowd vote for the winner of the costume contest and went by the applause of the audience. After going through all of the contestants, it was down to a handful of people including myself. The emcee of the show would point to the contestant and then wait for the sound of the applause. When the theatre fell silent in between applause, an audience member shouted, “The breakdancer, the breakdancer!” Then when he pointed at me and the crowd went crazy! He presented me and said, “Winner!” and handed me two tickets to the midnight showing on Halloween. Then it was time for the show to start. It was hilarious being able to shout at the actors on stage, throw pieces of bread, toilet paper and rice around the theatre at certain parts of the show. It was a great performance and very entertaining to watch. 

Sugarloaf mountain with friends

The last day I spent in Marquette, two of my friends took me hiking up a mountain called “Sugarloaf.” The hike was well worth it after seeing the view from the top of the mountain. I’m just glad I don’t have to run up and down the mountain like my friends do for their wrestling workouts! My time off from the gym was much needed and the most fun I’ve had in a while. I traveled to new places, got to spend time with close friends, made new friends, and had a great time in the most unexpected ways.

Now I’m currently back in the gym, spending the time I have before the next competition working on details, as well as new skills, for the upcoming competition season next year. I’m looking forward to performing in the Progressive Skating & Gymnastics Spectacular taking place in Jamestown, New York, later this year in December! Hope you can catch it live in person or on ABC!

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John Orozco