CASTLE HILL — Olympic gymnast and borough native John Orozco got a hero’s welcome Thursday, as Bronx officials declared it “John Orozco Day" and hosted a “welcome home” lunch for the superstar athlete.
The 19-year-old Orozco was all smiles as he dined with family, friends, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and a handful of other Bronx leaders at a restaurant in Castle Hill, just a short drive away from the Soundview neighborhood the London Olympian calls home.
“Being back home is a great feeling,” Orozco said, adding that he’s been on a whirlwind of media interviews and promotional events since he landed back in New York. He took a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure this week and said he was flattered by all the fans who recognized him and asked for his autograph.
“I thought I was going to come home and be regular old me,” Orozco said. “It’s just really different.”
Thursday’s celebration was held at Sabrosura Restaurant on Castle Hill Avenue, a Spanish-Asian fusion eatery that’s a favorite of the Orozco family.
“They are loyal customers, they always come here. They have their favorite dish—linguini with chicken and shrimp in white sauce,” said owner Nelson Ng, who said he was glued to the Olympics every night.
Diaz presented Orozco with a commemorative plaque and declared it “John Orozco Day,” in the Bronx.
“I’m here today to welcome back to the Boogie Down, our Olympian, our golden boy,” he told the crowd.
“Not only am I proud of you as the borough president, I’m proud of you as a friend,” Diaz said, praising the athlete as an inspiration to the borough. Orozco, who grew up in Soundview, started in gymnastics when he was just 8 years old, according to Diaz. The gymnast spent much of his teen years to a gym in upstate Chappaqua to train.
Earlier on Thursday, the borough president held a press conference to announce his support of a plan to put an ice hockey complex at the long-vacant Kingsbridge Armory, which the city is in the process of redeveloping. That kind of project would bring more athletic opportunities to the borough, Diaz said.
“We need to make more nontraditional sports available to Bronx kids, to New York City kids,” he said at Orozco’s luncheon, saying the athlete’s successes helped people “think of the Bronx as a place where anything can happen.”
The gymnast’s mom, Damaris Orozco, said she’s been on cloud nine since her son’s Olympic debut.
“I’m in heaven. I’m so proud,” she told reporters. “He couldn’t disappoint our family in three lifetimes.”
Orozco, who failed to score a medal at the London games after botched pommel horse and vault routines, was nonetheless optimistic at Thursday’s celebration.
“The big picture now is Rio in 2016,” he said. “I’ll keep fighting, keep making the Bronx proud.”