Vacaville wrestler has golden moment

It turns out that the number 13 isn’t unlucky for Craig Doerfert.

Doerfert, a Vacaville resident and 1988 Vanden High School alumni, won gold at the 2022 World Master IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Las Vegas this summer — all as the 13th seed in a 14-seed bracket.

Doerfert competed in the Men’s Master 5/Brown/Heavy, winning four matches (two by submission) to claim victory.

He’s come a long way since his days wrestling at Vanden High.

“In fact, my junior and senior year at Vanden, they didn’t have a coaching staff,” said Doerfert. “And so my parents actually fundraised through the booster club at the school and my dad ended up taking over the coaching position as a co-coach just to keep the program going. Otherwise, it would have just stopped. So my parents were 100 percent invested. And then even after practice, I’d go home and do some of my old practices and my dad would ride his bike next to me when I was running.”

In 1987 and 1988, Doerfert placed fourth in the California State Wrestling Championships, finishing his senior year at Vanden with a 141-21 record. He received a scholarship to Division I California State Bakersfield, where he made the travel team as a freshman.

In 1990 he finished out his last year of eligibility at Diablo Valley College with a 35-1 record and a CCCAA state championship.

Doerfert married his high school sweetheart, Heidi, who has been watching him wrestle since 1987. They have two children.

In 2016, Doerfert re-entered the scene and started practicing jiu-jitsu at Fabio Prado Academy in Dixon for four years, earning white, blue and purple belts.

“I’ve always wanted to be the best or drive to be as good as I can,” said Doerfert.“I started out as a white belt, but I saw a bunch of blue, purple, and brown belts and black belts around. I thought, ‘Man, I gotta find a way to get to the next level.’ So I was always inspired and anxious to just keep practicing, keep learning and keep excelling to earn the next belt progression.”

In 2020, Doerfert was training at the Rodrigo Cardoso Academy in Vacaville. While training under Cardoso, Doerfert began competing again, taking first place in several local tournaments.

Doerfert is 50, but he felt like he snapped back into competition mode.

“The adrenaline and the excitement and the nervousness and being scared of all of those emotions. It just, it really felt good to be back into the competition mode again,” said Doerfert.

Negotiating with a body that isn’t getting any younger, Doerfert says his training and conditioning are key to success.

“Ever since the beginning, I always base a lot of my success on how good a shape I could get myself in,” Doerfert said. “It was just condition, condition, condition and even when I didn’t want to condition, I would condition some more, because one thing I wasn’t going to do is gonna get tired during my matches.”

Doerfert enrolled in the 2022 World Master IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship only a month before the date. “I didn’t have any tournaments under my belt as a brown belt,” said Doerfert. “It’s much bigger than what I had done in the past.”

Doerfert, (pictured in high school) a Vacaville resident and Vanden High School alumni, won gold at the 2022 World Master IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Las Vegas this summer -- all as the 13th seed in a 14-seed bracket. (Courtesy Photo)
Doerfert, (pictured in high school) a Vacaville resident and Vanden High School graduate, won gold at the 2022 World Master IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Las Vegas this summer — all as the 13th seed in a 14-seed bracket. (Courtesy Photo)

Doerfert only had three weeks to train for this competition. He trained incessantly, changed his diet to meet weigh-in and training multiple times a week, all while maintaining his day job.

On tournament day, Doerfert arrived in Vegas early and remembers walking into the cavernous room filled with jiu-jitsu mats, looming anxiety, and watchful spectators.

“It can be nerve-racking, when you first walk in and you just hear all the crowd, you know, it’s just all this noise,” Doerfert said. “You know, there are thousands of people in this gymnasium, just screaming and hollering. And, you know, to me, I want to get acclimated to that environment. So I spent a few hours there just sitting, listening, and getting myself acclimated to a state of mind where I’m ready to go.”

As a lower seed, Doerfert fought upwards, with his first match coming against the 3rd seed. But Doerfert drew strength from his support system.

Quelling his fears, Doerfert won his first match by submission. Then he beat the No. 7 seed. Then
the No. 2 seed. After defeating three opponents, he was in the finals.

In his final match, Doerfert went against the No. 6 seed. Relying on his original wrestling training, Doerfert saw an opening and went for an ankle pick that his opponent didn’t anticipate. Getting his opponent on his back, Doerfert leveraged his way into a North-South choke, one of his personal favorites. After a moment, his opponent tapped and Doerfert emerged victorious.

Overwhelmed with emotion, Doerfert walked off the mat and began hugging his family and coach.

“It’s just- like a once-in-a-lifetime feeling,” said Doerfert. “We did the podium. Get the gold medal. All the pictures are being taken. You feel like a superstar up there. Then my professor comes up and that’s when I got my black belt. When he came up and I saw him pull the black belt out, it was kind of like everything coming together full circle.

“If everybody could walk around with that sensation all the time, the world would be such a
better place,” Doerfert continued. “There’s so much satisfaction and appreciation for everything and
everyone around you. And when you’re in the moment, you just think ‘I want more of this. This is really good stuff.’”

Doerfert returned home to his family and friends to celebrate the victory together and as a community.

“It’s really about giving back and helping others learn,” said Doerfert. “I just love the teaching aspect of the sport. Beyond the moves and submissions, it’s about being humble and working hard. To continue to learn, to keep sharing, and to keep supporting each other.”

By Troy Sambajon, Times-Herald

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