Monday, June 29, 2009

Living the Dream

By one account, Michael Phelps has a net worth of $40 - $50 million. Shawn Johnson has gone from Beijing to Dancing With the Stars winner to millionaire. In comparison, fellow Olympic gold medallist, wrestler Henry Cejudo, got a pat on the back and a bag of chips. Oh sure, there were those charming few minutes with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show and a variety of other brief television appearances, but by now – less than a year later – Henry has faded from the minds of the general public. He definitely has not reaped the financial rewards that many other Olympians have.

No youngster takes up wrestling with the thought that it will one day make him or her wealthy. Most kids try the sport because Dad wrestled – or a big brother – or a cousin – or the next door neighbor. When they first step on the mat there are no dreams of Olympic glory either.

Somewhere along the way something seems to happen to a select group of those kids. They fall in love with the sport. Because wrestling teaches you to do so – they set goals – win a kids’ tournament, then a high school state championship - maybe even four or five of them. For some, nothing less than being the best in the world will suffice. So they sacrifice. They train harder than any other elite athletes (as former USA Wrestling resident freestyle coach, Terry Brands, likes to say, “We do things that would make a billy goat puke.”).

They make these sacrifices fully aware that there is no pot of gold – maybe just a couple of round pieces of it – waiting for them. Dan Gable, John Smith, Lee Kemp, Bruce Baumgartner, Tricia Saunders and Cael Sanderson – all were athletes that dominated American wrestling much as Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez and Peyton Manning have dominated their sports.

It would be foolish to think that American wrestlers will ever be compensated like Woods, Rodriguez and Manning. However, an alliance led by USA Wrestling has set out to improve the landscape for our elite wrestlers. Last month they launched the Living the Dream Fund. Starting in 2010 a World Champion will be rewarded with $50,000. Silver medallists will earn $25,000 and bronze medallists will receive $15,000. The group will up the ante for the 2012 London Olympic Games. A gold medal there will be worth $250,000, a silver earns $50,000 and a bronze earns $25,000.

Some of wrestling’s biggest supporters are already on board – Michael Novogratz, Dave Barry and the Martori family, for example. The program is also endorsed by the United States Olympic Committee. But – they can’t do it alone.

It’s a sad fact that far too many members of the wrestling family are willing to sit on the sidelines and watch when challenges arise. How ironic that some people who love this sport and everything it embodies, won’t battle for it!

Then - there are those precious few – God love them. You know them – they have a closet full of tee shirts that say things like “Save Oregon Wrestling”. They give $50 or $100 every time someone in wrestling needs help. It doesn’t matter to them: an ailing wrestler needs help fighting cancer – they’re in; a college team is working to become self-sustaining – they’re in; a high school team needs a new mat – they’re in. If we could only have more of them.

If you’re not already a member of that exclusive fraternity that fights for wrestling – here’s your chance to join. You can donate on line right now to the Living the Dream Fund or send a check to

Living the Dream Fund
C/o USA Wrestling
6155 Lehman Dr
Colorado Springs, CO 80918

I’m in – how about you?

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