Sometimes a coach’s dream isn’t the most gifted athlete in the room, so overwhelming in talent there’s nothing to teach.
Sometimes it’s a guy like Christopher Anthony Millan — Kris to all — who becomes enamored with a sport and wants to be good at it, and sets out on a Don Quixote style quest to reach for unreachable stars.
Wrestling was that quest for Millan. He first tried it as a student at Chatsworth High and hoped to continue at East Los Angeles Colleges. His coaches, including Jaxael Rizo, Alfonzo Valdez, and Ralph Valle each saw something in the tenacity and single-mindedness of Millan that made them want to help even if Millan’s athletic journey might not go that far.
But no one anticipated this kind of ending.
On July 24, Millan was driving westbound on the 118 freeway when his two-door Honda was rear-ended as part of a three-car accident. Millan’s car crashed, and the gas tank exploded, engulfing the vehicle in flames. Millan never had a chance to try and escape. He was burned beyond recognition; his identity was later confirmed through dental records.
He was 19.
A funeral was held Aug. 16 at Forest Lawn in Hollywood. Sergio Millan, an uncle, noted in his eulogy that his nephew — the third of five children to Fermin and Sylvia Millan — “was not going to conform to that stereotype of a middle child, or of that Dreamer that dreams nightmares crossing bloodied borders, or that tree hugger planting trees knowing that we have a serious drought in California. He was a child destined to be someone because he seemed to understand that life was not about complexity but simplicity. There were so many good things about him. He was gentle yet brave, quiet yet loudly loving, knowledgeable yet had no clue life would be cut short.”
The loss felt by family and friends is incalculable. “Kris…was one of the best guys I knew,” said Josue Medina, a senior at Chatsworth who was on the wrestling team with Millan. “He helped me with homework. When I joined the wrestling team, he showed me every move he knew. … As a teammate he was very competitive. He’d set a goal and do it. Off the mat he was just cool.”
The coaches are feeling a personal loss; they all liked him. But also weighing on them are “what if” questions: the main one being “what if Millan had maxed his potential, what could he have been as a wrestler and as a person?”
Valdez was the Chatsworth wrestling coach during Millan’s sophomore and junior years. “He was very quiet, very humble; no worries, no problems, a go-with-the flow type of kid,” he said. “Very shy, very introverted. But he was one of those kids who just worked. Whatever you told him — ‘be there on time, be there early’ — he’d do it.”
Rizo, who now coaches at Poly, was on Valdez’s staff at Chatsworth. “When I first saw [Millan] I noticed so much potential and drive,” he said. “He trained for marathons and to wrestle. In wrestling you need stamina, strength, skills and right mindset. And the heart. He had plenty of heart.
“Nothing would make him quit, he’d just keep going.”
Valle, the ELAC coach, laughed when Millan said he wanted to be a college Division I wrestler. That would never happen, he told him. But Millan was going to earn a spot on the ELAC team. And despite his inexperience and lack of technique, Valle admitted that could happen. “He was fearless and had a lot of heart,” the coach said. “He never missed a practice. He had potential. I wanted to work with him.”
What also impressed Valle was Millan’s dedication to school. Before he got his car, Millan would leave Chatsworth at 4 a.m. to ride three Metro lines and a bus to make his first class at 7:30 a.m., go to school during the day, practice with the wrestling team in the afternoon, and even take a night class. Sometimes he would not get back home until after 11 p.m.
“That’s why I was relieved when he got the car,” Valle said.
A thought that now haunts Valle, and all of Millan’s family and friends.