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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Erkin Tadzihemtov, an asylee from Uzbekistan, was recently sworn in as a U.S. citizen. One of his first official acts will be competing for the United States in the Canada Cup wrestling tournament.

OREM — At 34, Erkin Tadzihemtov will compete in an international wrestling tournament in Canada.

Tadzihemtov will compete against world-class opponents in their early 20s, many of them the same age as the athletes he works with at Utah Valley University, where he is associate head coach of the Wolverine wrestlers.

As Tadzihemtov often tells the young men he coaches, experience is his competitive edge.

"That's what I keep telling them, 'I always have a little trick under my sleeve,'" he said.

No matter what happens on the mat in Ontario later this week, Tadzihemtov has in the past week achieved a major life milestone.

Tadzihemtov, who emigrated to the United States from Uzbekistan, was sworn in as a U.S. citizen last week. On Wednesday morning, he received his passport, which enables him to travel and compete internationally.

"It was exciting. It felt so good, finally after so long waiting, and going through all of this. It felt good," he said of taking the oath of citizenship.

Tadzihemtov earned a bachelor's degree at UVU while competing on its wrestling team, finishing his career as the Wolverines' Division I career leader with 48 wins.

He competes at 126 pounds, 7 pounds lighter than his college weight. Going into the tournament, Tadzihemtov said he feels strong, rested and mentally prepared to compete on an international stage.

Tadzihemtov will be accompanied by his wife, Lola, who is from Latvia and will soon begin the application for her citizenship. The couple have a 7-year-old daughter, Layla, who was born in the United States.

The Canada Cup is an international club competition. Tadzihemtov will observe his first Independence Day competing as an American. For this tournament, he will be sponsored by the New York Athletic Club.

Tadzihemtov competed in wrestling as a boy in Uzbekistan and was a nine-time national champion in the former Soviet state. He entered the United States on a student visa, starting his college studies at Colby Community College in Kansas. While at Colby, he was a junior college runner-up in freestyle wrestling.

UVU then recruited him to study and wrestle in Orem. After he earned his degree in behavioral science in 2007, Tadzihemtov was hired as a wrestling coach at UVU. He has helped at least one wrestler qualify for the NCAA championship every year since 2009.

With his student visa set to expire, Tadzihemtov applied for citizenship in 2007, finally completing the process seven years later.

Though he has been training for international competition starting with the Canada Cup, Tadzihemtov feared his plans would be put on hold when he learned his naturalization ceremony had been delayed.

Tadzihemtov got in touch with the father of one of the UVU wrestlers he coaches, who works for Utah County, to ask for help. He contacted Hatch's office on Tadzihemtov's behalf.

Hatch's staff worked with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to ensure Tadzihemtov could take the oath of citizenship last week.

"I got my passport today. I was worried about getting my ticket and all that, but Sen. Hatch's office was awesome. They helped big time. It was a great experience, the whole thing. It was like, wow, people came through and helped me out. (They're) very good people," he said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com