Cesar Armando Ledezma saunters into the locker room on a summer afternoon, boasting to a long-time coach in the Phoenix Maryvale High athletic department about how he set a personal record earlier in the day with a 525-pound squat lift.
“Keep working on those calves,” the coach says.
Ledezma, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior linebacker and state-qualifying wrestler, smiles and pulls back a black sock, revealing a barely-visible scar that runs down his calf and to his heel. He has a matching scar on the other leg.
His body is built up except for stubborn calves that refuse to grow. It is something he has been teased about since childhood, the result of being born with club feet so deformed that his parents couldn’t see his heels.
“I still do get teased, because my upper body is bigger than my lower body,” he said. “They don’t grow naturally. I work them out as hard as I can. They don’t grow. But I squat pretty good.”
Elvia Ledezma calls her son “a miracle.”
When he was a baby, Elvia was told by doctors that her son would never walk. A genetic defect caused Ledezma, called by his middle name Armando from family and friends, to be born with severe deformities in both feet.
His feet went inward.
“Born without heels, I didn’t think he would even stand up,” the Spanish-speaking Elvia said through her oldest son Erick, who translated in English
At eight months, Armando would pull himself up by grabbing onto the curtains in the front room.
Elvia searched the city for an orthopedic doctor who could correct her baby’s feet. A year after having them set, he went back in for more surgeries to further correct them.
Screws were inserted into the feet. They were put in braces and casted.
Ledezma remembers the first four years of his life feeling frustrated that he couldn’t play with his brother, who is four years older and was running all over the house and in the back yard.
After the braces came off and almost a year after being in casts, he took his first steps at age 4. Two years later, after extensive physical therapy, he was running. His parents cried.
“Nothing is impossible,” Elvia said she would always tell him.
He took that to heart.
“I just wanted to be like everybody else,” he said.
When he entered high school, Ledezma decided he wanted to try a sport. He asked his parents if he could play football. Elvia and his father, Heriberto, at first said no. They were concerned about his feet.
Elvia asked her oldest son, a former Maryvale basketball player who is now a personal trainer at a Phoenix gym, what he thought about Armando playing.
“I said, ‘Go for it,’ ” Erick said. “I was glad he was even able to walk in the first place. He is achieving things other normal kids can’t do.”
Ledezma started at linebacker on varsity football teams that lost 20 games and won only once in the past two seasons.
He qualified for the Division I state wrestling tournament last season in the 170-pound division.
Former Maryvale wrestling great Henry Cejudo, an Olympic gold medalist, has worked with Ledezma, among other Maryvale wrestlers, on the mat. Cejudo’s own amazing journey coming from an impoverished background has motivated Ledezma.
“I look at him and how he struggled, and it makes it look like I don’t have any struggles,” Ledezma said.
Running back Luis Montero, Ledezma’s best friend since kindergarten, is amazed at how far he has come.
“His legs aren’t a really big deal,” Montero said. “He can still keep up and exceed other people who don’t have the same thing.”
After a long workout with the football and wrestling teams, Ledezma comes home hobbling, his feet in so much pain that he can barely stand on them. He ices them. Sometimes he’ll put heating pads on them to keep them loose.
“The worst part is during wrestling season when it’s cold,” he said. “They tighten up. Warming them up helps. Sometimes, it’s so bad I’ll take ibuprofen. I try not to take anything.”
When new football coach George Martinez, a veteran at rebuilding ailing programs, arrived in the winter, he was impressed by Ledezma and his story and how hard he worked in the weight room to get him to where he is today.
The old coach decided to make Ledezma the center of the rebuilding process.
“He’s a success story,” Martinez said. “I told our team that. I said, ‘Forget about what happened in the past. Here’s our success story. It’s going to carry on when the season starts.’ ”
Richard Obert writes for the azcentral.com, a Gannett property.