DENVER — Ace Connolly would never be mistaken for the next Picasso. But his mother, Lea Petmezas, loved to paint.
Connolly and his family lived just outside of Los Angeles before moving to western Colorado about 10 years ago. In California, Connolly would sometimes follow her mother as she went to paint beautiful landscapes. Connolly has some of those paintings hanging in her bedroom. It’s one of the many ways he remembers her.
“Sometimes I would go out there with her to Death Valley where she would paint. I’d help her a little bit just with the easy stuff,” said Connolly, a senior wrestler at North Fork High School. “I’m not a great artist, so that’s why she’d let me color in some easy stuff to make me feel included.
“Sometimes I wish I had known…to appreciate those moments even more. But I’m thankful for the ones I’ve made.
In the summer of 2022, Petmezas fell ill and went to the hospital and died in July of a sudden brain tumor at the age of 50.
“It was… it all happened so fast. said Connolly. “We didn’t really think it was something that was going to be fatal. But it spread so quickly and before we knew it, he was in the hospital.
What Connolly remembers most about his mother is how loving she was. She moved to Paonia from the Los Angeles area after her divorce and with four children in tow: Ace, Jai, Soul and ElleDeja.
Petmezas has found a way to balance painting, running a business and making ends meet for the kids.
“I mean, he was doing so many different things just to bring in money and he always made it feel like we had a lot of money. She spoiled us,” Connolly said. “She, she was so generous. She never put herself in front of her children. I hope I can do the same for my children. thankful for that.
One of Petmezas’ side businesses was selling crackers. Connolly often went with her to the Telluride Farmer’s Market to sell them.
This, in addition to her loving attitude, also meant that she would make sure she reached out to anyone anywhere, Connolly recalls.
“Sometimes it got a bit annoying because we were always stuck in the supermarket. It took her two or three hours because she bumped into every single person she knew and talked to them. She called it business,” Connolly said with a smile. “She used the excuse and talked to everyone as part of her business about her. She’s like, ‘Oh, I’m going to run really fast.’ I’m waiting in the car and I’m there for a couple of hours.
You don’t know what it’s like to lose a parent until you do, Connolly said. A person who has cared for you from the moment you entered the world, one of the few people you have known every single day of your life, is gone.
Connolly closed off for a while after his mother died. One of Connolly’s friends died shortly after his mother.
“You might think that (shutting down is) a smarter option at the moment. But as time goes by, you won’t get over it. It will only make things worse,” Connolly said. “I think letting your emotions out is another way to show that you are strong.”
In the months following his mother’s death, Connolly and his siblings grew closer. He is grateful to have that relationship. He has also learned to lean on his friends.
Connolly may not be a painter, but the wrestling mat is his canvas. And he has created a memorable prep career with North Fork.
Connolly was part of the inaugural squad of the North Fork team following the merger of Paonia and Hotchkiss. He has qualified for state in each of the past two seasons. On Thursday, he lost his first state tournament game at the Ball Arena in Denver to Rocky Ford’s Joe Zamora.
“Man, Ace was so weak as a freshman and he became one of the toughest mentally and physically guys I’ve coached,” said North Fork coach Nate Wiggins.
Connolly – who is struggling with a knee injury – is looking to give it his all on his final weekend, just like Petmezas gave him and his brothers his all for all those years.
Connolly has no plans to go straight to college, he wants to figure out what he wants in life first. Travel is definitely on the table for him. He is grateful for his time with the miners. The friends he’s made and the memories he’ll keep for the rest of his life.
After all, gratitude is something his mother has always taught him.
“And this is something that I feel I can accept in my life. I’m happy with what I have,” she said. “I saw this quote and I’m going to make it my senior quote. It said, ‘If you always look at what you have, you’ll always have more.’ And if you look at what you don’t have, you’ll never get enough.’ I believe in looking at what you have and being thankful for it.
Western Slope wrestlers are still alive in the championship hunt
Nineteen wrestlers from District 51 are still in the mix in the championship bracket at the state wrestling tournament in Denver.
In Class 5A, advancing for Fruita Monument were Geno Gallegos (106 lbs), Will Stewart (138), Orrin Mease (144), Dylan Chelewski (157), True Tobiasson (175) and Tatum Williams (215). LJ George (120), Tyler Archuleta (138) and Bryce Nixon (150) begin their race for third place today.
Central boasts six fighters in the second round after Elijah Hernandez (106), JP Espinoza (113), William Dean (126), Dagen Harris (150), Devin Hickey (165) and Tyler Ziek (190) all won their first meetings. Hassin Maynes (132) and Jordyn Willie (138) are alive in the comfort zone.
None of the three Grand Junction wrestlers won their Thursday matches. Murphy Harris (120), Landon Scarbrough (126) and Colton Romero (138) will be looking to make their mark in the consolation rounds.
Keyton Young (138) was the only Palisade wrestler to advance to Class 4A. Teagan Young (106), Tyrus DeSpain (138) and Trevin Brannon (150) are alive in the consolation brackets.
Fruita and Central are fifth and eighth respectively in the 5A team standings.
School District 51 Phoenix finished day one of the girls’ tournament in third place and advanced six female wrestlers to the second round. Anaiah Guajardo-Zarate (115), Mollie Dare (130), Laylah Casto (190) and Rya Burke (235) all pinned their first opponent. Appollonia Middleton (135) and Shylee Tuzon (155) won by decision. Marissa Martinez-Quezada (100), Laurel Hughes (140), Kenya Contreras (145) and Adalee McNeil (170) are in the consolations.
The Phoenix have 20 points: one point behind second-place Chatfield and four behind Discovery Canyon.
Aadin Gonzales (106), James Schaefer (144), Daniel Alcazar (150), Quinn Brown (157), Raul Rascon (215) and Dmarian Lopez (285) advanced for Montrose. Lopez pinned his opponent in 28 seconds.
Dawsen Drozdik (106) was the only Delta wrestler to progress to the second round.
Of the two Rifle wrestlers, only Parker Miller (144) advanced.
Grand Valley also saw one of its two fighters advance in Teagan Jacobs (120).
Ethan Hice (120), Tayton Nelson (126), Landon Martin (132), Elias Hanson (138), Wylee Lorimor (144), Ethan Toothaker (150), Kole Hawkins (165) and Ryan Brunk (285) are all advanced for Cedaredge.
Meeker is sending seven wrestlers to the next round in Trae Kennedy (132), Abe Maupin (144), Connor Blunt (157), Cade Blunt (165), Brendan Clatterbuagh (190), Judd Harvey (215) and Tanner Musser (285) .
For the North Fork, Payson Pene (113), Breaden Flores (120), Charlie Miller (138), Lane Stroh (144), Kole Hawkins (165) and Sam Ware (285) advanced.
JW Naslund (126) and Arthur Connelly (175) advanced for Nucla.
Trevor Piatt (106) was the only Olathe wrestler to win his first match and Rangely’s Aydan Christian (113) also advanced.
Both North Fork wrestlers – Velma Bailey (105) and Kacey Walck (140) – advanced to the second round.
Two of Olathe’s five wrestlers advanced: Aby England (155) and Lynessia Duran (235).
Rifle’s only wrestler, Madison Ferris (155), also advanced.
Nucla’s only wrestler, Rylie McCabe (125), did not advance to the second round.