NH wrestler, coach consider ties to younger bombing suspect
MANCHESTER - Central High School wrestling coach Jason Cumming and state champion wrestler Azalkhan Sarvalov - like many in the varsity wrestling community - were fascinated by a photo making the rounds on the Internet Friday afternoon.
It showed a Milford wrestler in a 2011 match with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old Chechen immigrant suspected in connection with the Boston Marathon bombings. Tsarnaev was named a Greater Boston League Winter All-Star wrestler that year.
For Sarvalov, the Boston violence hits close to home. He is a Russian immigrant, a Muslim and a wrestler - characteristics he shares with Tsarnaev. But any comparison stops there.
The slender, dark-haired, soft-spoken Sarvalov is concerned about a backlash. "They will look at me different now, if I go somewhere and they know I am from Russia," he said, although nothing like that has happened so far.
"As far as Aza goes, he has become one of the more popular kids in the school for positive reasons," said Cumming. "He has been a very positive representative of that culture, so everyone whose had the pleasure of knowing him at Central is not going to judge him, because they know what he's about."
Sarvalov, a junior who speaks English, Russian and Turkish, is an honors student hoping for a wrestling scholarship to college. He was 10 when his family emigrated from a southern part of Russia near Chechnya, and has since become a U.S. citizen.
He feels fortunate to have lived in a more peaceful part of the Russian Republic, unlike strife-torn Chechnya. "It can change you if you see someone killed in front of your eyes," he said.
The lack of freedom and a desire for a better way of life drove his father and stepmother to immigrate in 2005 to Manchester, where his uncle had already settled.
"My aunt still lives in Russia," he said, "and says it's not much different since the end of the Soviet Union."
Sarvalov is a Sunni Muslim, while most Muslims in Chechnya are Sufi, a small sect within the broader religion.
He said wrestling and weight-lifting are popular in Russia, which may be why he has such a natural affinity for the sport. His friend, Mansur Vasibov, another Russian immigrant, convinced him to join the Central High wrestling team as a freshman.
After winning the Division 1 state championship in February as a junior, Sarvalov dedicated the title to his uncle, a world-class wrestler while in Russia. "He once won a national championship, and I want to do the same for him," he said.