MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Their cauliflower ears are scars of dedication. Their taped ankles and wrists are examples of their saltiness to the sport. Five Marines ranked top ten in various wrestling classes in the nation, shows America that the All-Marine Wrestling Team is successful.
Greco-Roman is the specific style of wrestling the Marine wrestling team competes at. It was introduced to the Olympic Games in 1906 and is different from freestyle wrestling because it forbids holds below the belt. The result is an emphasis on explosive throws. One wins by taking two of three rounds at two minutes a period.
Cpl. Courtney J. Meyers, wrestles Greco-Roman for the Corps in the 185-pound category, and is currently ranked 8th in the U.S. He explained his goal is to make the Olympic team and wishes more Marines knew about the opportunities the Marine Corps wrestling team offers.
“Eighty-nine percent of Marines don’t know about the opportunity,” said Meyers, with a disappointed look. “Once I found out I could represent the USMC and my country – that’s the biggest drive I could have. Sports give you a mental edge; add being a Marine and you’re ready for anything.”
Inside their locker room Meyers and his fellow wrestlers put their gear on like knights with their armor. Which makes what follows, that much more unexpected.
Wrestlers crack their necks and step onto the mat for their pre-work out warm up – an indoor soccer match.
Laughing and smiling, it is soon evident why they play soccer. It’s more than wrestling at their gym; it’s a family and a brotherhood.
“I love the day-to-day comradery, and I like traveling – seeing the world,” said Staff Sgt. Donavan G. DePatto, who is currently ranked 7th in the nation for 135 pound Greco-Roman wrestling. “If you want to wrestle, you have to be a Marine first. If you work hard you will get the opportunity to try-out. Then if you work your butt off you’ll make the team.”
Of more than a 150,000 in the Corps, less than 30 Marines train on the team and even fewer get the opportunity to represent the USMC in competitions. To say they’re elite is almost an understatement.
Many of these fighters are ranked in the top ten in the nation and when you watch their wrestling exercises, and the power and speed of their movements, it’s clear why. However, despite their physical capabilities, one wrestler explained that it comes down to having heart.
“It takes heart to keep pushing,” said Sgt. Robert A. Kennedy, the wrestling strength and conditioning coach. “They’re not in a combat zone, but they battle, they beat the crap out of each other. Look at his finger, (pointing to a wrestler) his finger tendons were torn, but he tapped it and went right back out on the mat. It’s a hard learning curve but if you’re willing to try. These guys are willing to teach you.”