Photo: Megan & Alex Carrico on their wedding day (April 5, 2019)
By Brian Reed-Baiotto, Sports Editor
In his early teen years, even Alex Carrico’s friends described him as an angry bully.
He liked to party, pick fights and destroy things.
Carrico’s parents split up when he was just three years old, and money was tight.
So much so that his three siblings, mother, stepfather and Alex himself slept inside a car together on multiple occasions when they couldn’t afford a hotel room.
There were other nights where they caught some shuteye in a garage or on the floor at a friend’s house.
But Alex Carrico’s story is one of redemption.
The 2007 WCHS graduate is living proof that no matter how bad things are, there’s always a chance to better your life through hard work and getting one’s education.
And despite not being together for most of his life, Alex’s parents, Candy and Gary, have played instrumental and positive roles in his life.
Carrico, now 32, is married, has a bachelors and masters degree, and a prominent job in North Carolina.
But let’s start from the beginning.
Donnie Stephens, who, along with his wife, Shirley, led WCHS to an elite status, recalls meeting Carrico as he supervised students who found themselves in trouble at Hollencrest Middle School.
It seemed Alex had a season ticket to detention.
“He was mean-spirited, hateful, violent, and a super intelligent bully, despite being small,” Donnie said. “A couple years later, his friend Jeremy (Dizon) told me I should let Alex wrestle and I said ‘no way.’ And then Jeremy used my own words against me, because I always say that wrestling makes you a better person. And he said that’s exactly why Alex needs the chance to be part of the program.”
It also didn’t hurt that Carrico was a naturally gifted athlete.
So, the tough love began and Carrico handled it in stride.
Part of that new focus and the prioritization shift that Donnie and Shirley had enacted with Alex included his studies.
Carrico would bounce back from being academically ineligible his sophomore year.
And by the time he was a senior, Carrico not only won a CIF-SS individual title at 125 pounds, West Covina also claimed a CIF-SS individual team championship.
If one thought Carrico might fall back into his old habits after leaving West Covina and that regimented routine, you would be wrong.
Carrico went on to wrestle for and earned an Associates Degree in Fire Technology from Rio Hondo College.
His next stop was Cal Baptist, where in 2013, Carrico got his Bachelors in Nursing.
He might not have seen it this way, but after wrestling for a season at Cal Baptist, his maturity and high standards were put to the test.
Carrico’s coaches did not like the fact that part of his major included having to do rounds at a hospital in the mornings.
When given a choice to change his schedule so he could keep his spot in the lineup, Alex chose his education and future career ahead of kicking ass on a wrestling mat.
His final step was earning a Masters in Nursing Education at American Sentinel University in Aurora, Colorado.
It secured Carrico’s future in the medical field, not to mention his bank account.
Carrico teaches nurses at the University of North Carolina’s Medical Center, which is a Level 1 Trauma Center.
It’s only one of five trauma centers in the state of North Carolina, and its level 1 status means it’s capable of treating any injury that one may incur.
Alex also spends at least one day a week working in the emergency room at a nearby hospital.
Aside from his tireless work ethic and ability to hold himself accountable for all of his failures, there is one other factor in Alex’s life that has made him happy and complete.
And that was meeting Megan Duff while both were students at Cal Baptist in Riverside.
After a couple of months of ‘hanging out,’ Alex knew this was the girl for him.
“I realized she was the kind of woman I wanted around me, because she was so much more mature than me. She didn’t put up with my bulls***. She basically told me that you’re either serious or you’re not. And I had a lot of growing up to do when I met her. When I was 25 or so, I was young and successful and bought our first house and I wanted to party with my friends. But she was able to lay down the law and told me that she wanted a man that had his priorities in order.”
Alex helped raise Megan’s kids, Seth and Kayden, since they were five and three years old, respectively.
Seth is now 17, and Carrico recently became the adoptive father of 14-year old Kayden.
Alex and Megan have been together for over a decade, but they made it official by saying “I do” on April 5 of 2019.
“Those two kids and Megan are everything to me,” Alex said. “They are a constant reminder to put them first. I was 21 when I met them and it feels like we kind of grew up together. Megan has made me a better person. I truly believe that every immature man needs a strong woman to harness them in.”
And Megan isn’t just a great wife and mom.
She’s also a nurse at Duke University in nearby Durham, North Carolina.
After seven years of trying, Megan and Alex are expecting their first child in late March of 2022.
Carrico’s life is so good that after buying their first home in North Carolina and then saving up for a while, he and Megan bought a house for the four of them.
And it gets better.
Carrico gave his mother the old home, so Candy moved out to North Carolina and now has a place of her own.
Carrico said that despite having patches of his early life being less than ideal, plenty of people had it worse.
“My mom didn’t have a lot, but she made sure we had everything she didn’t and sacrificed everything for us, and that means so much to Austin, Addison, Amber and me,” he said. “She always made sure we stayed close to West Covina, because she knew that’s where our friends were.”
We asked Carrico to describe the role his children, father, the sport of wrestling and what Donnie and Shirley’s impact has been on his life.
Said Alex Carrico: “My children have been the greatest gift life has ever given me. Every day spent with them, I learn more about what it means to be a leader, a provider, and a father. They are a constant reminder to stay guided, to be nurturing, and above all, selfless.
My wife always says the world needs dreamers and the world needs doers and that I am both. One thing she never takes credit for is the fact that I dream and I do because of her/our children, and our future. She instills the utmost strength and confidence in me as a provider, she trusts my every move, even when others don’t and for that, I will always be thankful. She chose me at some of my worst times, which is why she will always have me at my best.
I would not have any of what I am so lucky to have in my life had Donnie and Shirley not come into it and given me a chance to be part of their program and the sport of wrestling. I was humbled time and again, both on and off the mat, and because of that and their tough love, I am a successful man, husband and father. I love them so much and they have my eternal gratitude.
My father has always been a very important part of my life, and even more so in recent years as we have developed a great bond and friendship. I could only imagine how difficult it was for him to watch me grow up making so many of the wrong decisions, but neither he nor my mother gave up on me. One thing he said to me that has always stuck with me and I am grateful for was something along the lines of “I knew you were a good kid, one with a great spirit, you just needed to harness it in the right direction.”
Lastly, Carrico would like to serve as an example for kids who feel like everyone and everything are against them during the most vulnerable of times.
“I was not a good kid for a few years and the best advice I could give is surround yourself with good people, take accountability for your own actions and don’t blame others. If you’re willing to work hard in and out of the classroom, you too can turn your life around. I am so thankful for all the people who have blessed my life and I’ll do everything I can not to let them down.”
Former West Covina wrestling coach, Donnie Stephens: “Alex Carrico is a reminder of why coaching is more than just helping kids learn to win and to deal with losses. I’ve always believed that wrestling saves people. I believe wrestling is a tool in God’s hands that he uses to shape character and integrity in people. Alex is the most perfect example of this. I can tell you so many stories about the mischief and trouble Alex got into, but what I want to say most is that I have done this coaching thing for a good while now and I’ve never seen a kid overcome more obstacles and turmoil in his life to be so successful. If you wonder if wrestling truly saves lives, builds integrity and character, just take a look at Alex today. You could make a movie about his life and it would be a hit. He went from a bully to being a servant of humanity as a nurse. Alex makes people’s lives better everyday now and that means more to me than he will ever know. Shirley once gave him a hug after he passed a big test( don’t break rules while on this trip and wrestle like a champ). If I had tear ducts, I would have cried when he looked at her and said ” I never realized how good it feels to have someone tell you that you did good!” I miss my days at WCHS and I especially miss kids like Alex. I thank God I can keep up with the awesome human he has become.
Former West Covina wrestling coach, Shirley Stephens: “The two memories that stand out the most to me with Alex are a tear-filled talk we had after not making it to state his senior year and him seeing our daughter as a young lady and not a little girl. They both explain a lot about who he is and how wrestling shapes families. My biggest wrestling memory of Alex is sitting outside on the sidewalk at Masters (I hate that tournament so much, it’s brutally emotional). We were having “the talk” about how bigger and better things were in his future and how making it to state for wrestling isn’t the end of life goals even if at that moment it feels like everything worked for has just been crushed. It wasn’t my first talk or my last, but the moment stands out so strongly, because of the fierce determination in his eyes. I knew 100% with no doubts that he was going to be successful and that the heartbreak of the day would factor into his drive. Alex was a tough kid who very rarely cried, but we both did that day.
My second biggest memory is at AJ Guardado’s wedding. Jaine (our daughter) was in her teens and hadn’t seen her brothers in many years because of the move to Kentucky. She was dressed in a cute dress and looked a lot older than the last time the boys had all seen her. Alex took one look like a protective big brother and said, “oh hell no.” He didn’t like the fact that she was all grown up and what comes with that. It just was a reminder of how family forms and that genetics don’t have as much to do with making a family as people think. Alex’s (and the other boys) reaction was a confirmation that the village I have been blessed to raise my biological kids wrapped in was alive and well despite distance and time. I know for a fact that if my kid showed up on any of their doorsteps, regardless of the time, they would have a meal, food and a kick in the butt if needed. That is a damn good feeling as a parent. Watching Alex come into himself and develop into the person he had the potential to be is one of the best parts about being a coach. He has overcome so much and released so much anger that he has truly changed not only his life, but everyone who comes in contact with his magic. He has found an incredible partner in Megan, gotten wrapped around the fingers of their children, and bought his mama a house. He is what dreams are made of when kids say they’re “gonna make it.” There are not words to say how proud he makes us to have been a small part of his journey.”
Former West Covina High & Duke University wrestler, AJ Guardado: “He was academically ineligible our sophomore year when he started wrestling. He got into some disciplinary issues and Donnie told him “shape up or ship out.” He got it together, and two years later he was a league and CIF champion. He’s committed, focused and intense. He went on to wrestle in college, got into nursing and now he has a prestigious position at UNC medical center in North Carolina. He and his wife are Godparents to my son, and they are two of the best people I know. He’s a dedicated family man, a great friend and a good man. I don’t know if I’ve ever personally seen someone turn their luck around as drastically as he has. He’s one of my best friends and I love the man immensely.”
Former West Covina wrestler, Daniel Brooks: “I got to know Alex during our sophomore year. He wasn’t a really happy person and liked to destroy things, and I began doing bad things with him. We would drink and party a lot and pick fights. Thanks to the sport of wrestling and the leadership of Donnie and Shirley Stephens, we all matured. We took a look at ourselves and said ‘what are we doing?’ The hard work he put in was really starting to change his mindset. At practices, you could tell he was going to be special. He had that ‘it factor,’ Donnie and Shirley had to give him tough love, because it was the only way to get through to him. They made him babysit their kids when he wasn’t on the mat at tournaments and other tasks to give him structure. Once we were able to focus our attention on the mat, we shifted our priorities and changed as people for the better. I am so proud of him for becoming such a great person. He inspires my wife and myself so much.”
To view a photo gallery of Alex through the years, click on the Facebook link here: Facebook
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