Even on days when he dreaded going into the wrestling room, Jordan Cooper knew his mood would instantly pick up the second he saw Keithen Estrada.
"We could be cutting weight and trying to lose seven pounds in one day and Keithen would crack a joke and just automatically make everything seem better," said Cooper, Estrada's sophomore teammate at Bakersfield College in 2019. "He was the one kid where you could be having a terrible day, but the moment you saw him, it seemed like everything just went away."
Roughly 24 hours prior to his interview with The Californian, Cooper was sent into an emotional tailspin, one he might normally rely on Estrada to pull him out of. But as he shared fond memories of his friend, a noticeable quiver creeps into his voice, as he knows such relief isn't coming this time.
A sense of grief engulfed the local wrestling community on Thursday, when Estrada was found dead at his home in Bakersfield. He was just 21 years old.
A cause of death has yet to be determined and family members have requested that details remain private until an autopsy can be performed.
This not fair man. You were the nicest person I’ve ever met. All the deep talks, all the scrambles, pushing each other every day to keep getting better and winning together. You were my brother man. I’m in shock. Fly high Keithen. Love you forever dawg💔👼🏼 pic.twitter.com/sp1FJEXbGw— Jordan Cooper (@jordan_cooper25) August 6, 2020
Aside from wrestling against him once in high school, Cooper, a Garces Memorial graduate, says he didn't know Estrada, an East High alum, until they met in college. But within moments, he says he felt as if they'd been friends for years, an effect Estrada seemed to have on most everyone he encountered.
"He would just make everybody happy," said D'Angelo Estrada, Keithen's older brother. "Even when he would meet somebody new he would just make them feel welcome. He was that kind of person."
His infectious personality also won over his coaches.
"The road trips home on the bus were hilarious because of him," Renegade coach Brett Clark said. "He was a guy who could pinpoint if you (were down) and make you feel better."
Part of the reason Clark and his staff were so receptive to Estrada's joking nature is that he didn't let it interfere with his on-mat performance. He was a two-time, 125-pound state qualifier at BC, finishing seventh in his weight class in both 2018 and 2019.
To celebrate his life, teammates, coaches and friends gathered for a candlelight vigil at Estrada's home on Thursday night, which Cooper estimated drew over 100 people.
"It was comforting to see how many people were there for him," Cooper said.
Sadly, that comfort did little to reduce the feelings of shock and sadness that permeated the event. Clark attempted to give a speech but lasted just a few short moments before breaking into tears, as he and fellow attendees knew there was only one person who could have made them feel better in that moment.
"(We knew) if he was here, he'd be joking, he'd be dancing, just talking to everybody, D'Angelo said of his brother. "It all so very shocking still."
To help pay for funeral expenses, a GoFundMe account was set up on Thursday. As of Friday afternoon, it was more than halfway towards reaching its $15,000 donation goal.
Clark and his wife are also hoping to start a food chain, where friends and well-wishers can prepare and deliver hot meals to Estrada's family.
Such a sense of community is likely to be key, as Clark anticipates the months ahead will be emotionally grueling for everyone in Estrada's life.
"It's sad, it's shocking, it's just a bad deal," he said. "To see a kid like him with a bright future and it's just over at 21 years old. It's just so horribly tragic that someone so young is gone so early."