When wrestlers take to the mats today and Thursday at the 43rd annual Medina Invitational Tournament, talent will shine bright.
In some cases, so will mental fortitude, which just might be the difference between a win and loss.
Wrestling and the military have had a longstanding marriage, which is why many successful personnel can trace earlier accomplishments to the 710-square foot circle in their high school gymnasium.
“I believe that it is the one sport in high school that can prepare a student-athlete for what it takes to be a Marine,” said retired staff sergeant Ryan Helton. “As far as the physical standpoint, discipline, mental toughness and sacrifice, all those qualities really intertwine with each other.”
The 1996 Buckeye graduate should know, he sees it every day in his son Isaiah Helton, who wrestles for Medina and who will join the Marines in July.
Isaiah Helton is one of a long line of Medina County wrestlers whose military backgrounds started with discipline, sacrifice and grit on the mats.
After graduating last year, Wadsworth’s Matt McMillan joined the Navy, while Cody Surratt and Medina resident and Lutheran West graduate James Handwerk graduated to the Air Force where they’ll wrestle for the Falcons.
Cloverleaf’s Dakota Bukszar went to the Navy and told coach Bob Scandlon that wrestling was a big part of his ability to get through basic training.
The lists go on and on as Brett Gast, Kyle Kumhall, Kurt Kumhall, Jake Piatt got their starts at Medina, while Anthony Kisiday began with Buckeye.
Add Brunswick’s Elliot Monyak, DJ Skiba and Zack Taylor as some of the few area military to cut their teeth with wrestling and the bond between the two is inseparable.
“Anyone that I’ve ever talked to that has done military boot camp have said boot camp is nothing compared to wrestling,” Medina coach Chad Gilmore said. “Just the fact that wrestling teaches you not to give up, to be comfortable being uncomfortable and to keep pushing when you’re tired. That all prepares them, so when they get to the military they’re a step ahead of the regular civilian entering. I think that’s why the military likes wrestlers.”
More so than the physical advantages the sport brings, the mental fortitude pays dividends almost immediately.
Workouts are as tough as an individual makes them. It’s the ability to find another gear that pushes people through.
Isaiah Helton sees it every day and can relate it not just to his Medina team, but to himself after growing up in a military family.
“I believe that what the military and wrestling have in common is the physicality and the mental aspect to them,” he said. “Both are not easy things. Although they’re similar, they’re very different. Wrestling will help prepare me in the Marine Corps to help push me mentally and keep me strong. It helps keep that mentality that no matter how tired you are, you have to keep pushing and keep going to pull through.”
The brotherhood is incomparable as well as the bond made between wrestlers is a direct reflection of those built in wrestling.
Competitors on the mat and friends off, a veteran is a veteran no matter what branch of the military.
“You see other sports and it doesn’t compare,” Surratt said. “You put a wrestler in any situation and they’re going to thrive. The wrestling team at the academy is one of the most respected programs because they know what we do and that we’d do anything for anyone. They know we’re leaders in character.”
More than that, a wrestler’s never-quit attitude shines even brighter as a leader defending the country.
“The biggest aspect of wrestling that helped me in the military is fighting through those hard matches, knowing that it’ll all be worth it in the end, always remembering that quitting is never an option,” Skiba said. “It gave me the biggest advantage coming into the Air Force because of all the hardships through the many seasons and nothing can compare to that.”
Contact Brad Bournival at email@example.com.