Vai's View: What's in a name? Bobby Salazar knows

Published: Friday, March 25 2011 5:00 p.m. MDT

From left, Vai Sikahema, Ethan Smith, Julie Salazar, Jacob Salazar and Bobby Salazar eating cheese steaks at South Philly favorite, Tony Lukes'.

Last weekend, we hosted Bobby and Julie Salazar in our home. They were in town with their sons, Colton and Jacob, who are stud college wrestlers in the Big 10 Conference.

Philadelphia hosted the three-day NCAA Wrestling Championships.

Colton Salazar wrestles for the Purdue Boilermakers at 157 pounds. His younger brother Jacob wrestles at the same weight class, but for the Michigan Wolverines. They've never competed against each other because Colton is a senior and Jacob is a redshirt freshman. The boys grew up in Midway, Utah, won multiple individual and team state championships at Wasatch High, are on college wrestling scholarships and are returned missionaries.

Colton Salazar, the Purdue senior, served in Tokyo, married his high school sweetheart, will graduate in June with a degree in aviation, is a pilot and plans to work in air-traffic control.

Jacob Salazar is a freshman pre-med major at Michigan, served a Spanish-speaking mission in San Bernardino, Calif., and is engaged to his high school sweetheart, whom he'll marry this summer in the Jordan River Temple.

The Salazar boys have an older married sister, Jennica, who has two children and graduated in nursing from BYU. The youngest Salazar, Aubri, is a sophomore heptathlete on the BYU women's track team.

As accomplished as the Salazar kids are, this story isn't about them.

It's about their dad, Bobby, and his remarkable life. It's a life shrouded in a guarded family secret of false identity, poverty, alcoholism, conversion and redemption. Certainly, there was no indication in the early years that Bobby Salazar would play at, not one, but two of the most storied football programs in the country, race in the Iditarod, marry a pretty college cheerleader, have a successful career in the medical field and raise children who would attend and graduate from the top schools in the country.

Bobby Salazar and I were teammates and knew each other at BYU for just one year — 1983.

I had just returned from a mission and was redshirting when Bobby was a senior safety.

Bobby Salazar was born in Montebello, Calif., as Robert Earl Smith Junior, after his father. When his parents divorced in 1960, his mother Pat moved with her two little boys, 2-year-old Bobby and 3-year-old John to Las Vegas, to be closer to her family. Pat worked as a barmaid at a casino and caught the attention of a Scottish-Canadian bartender with the ill-fitting Hispanic name of Alexander Salazar. Pat and Al married and eventually gave John and Bobby two half-brothers, Harry and Al (Alexander).

When Bobby was 8 or 9, the family abruptly left Vegas and returned to California. They moved to San Rafael, about an hour north of San Francisco, living in an apartment for a few years, while Al and Pat worked odd jobs trying to make ends meet. Eventually, they moved to Sonoma, a nicer area roughly 40 miles away, into a small three-bedroom house where parents and four boys shared one bathroom. Al worked late hours as a bartender and whenever money was tight, which was often, Pat would find work in the fast-food industry until their finances were more stable. It was a good, loving home where they were taught values and work ethic, but not exceptionally religious. Pat grew up Catholic, so they attended midnight mass on Christmas and Easter and prayed over meals.

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