3/7/2013 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Temperatures are in the low 40s, but the training facility, located at building 5975, is warm, muggy and saturated in basic military training-reminiscent odors. The mats are drenched in sweat, thus impeding contenders' grips on their opponents. The fast-paced, electronic music playing; grunting and coach yelling make for a noisy training environment. The wrestlers have been grappling, rolling and slamming nonstop for an hour, and still have seven hours left in the training day.
The Air Force Wrestling team arrived here Feb. 13, 2013, to participate in the All-Air Force Wrestling Training Camp.
The training camp serves to prepare the Air Force Wrestling team for the 2013 Armed Forces Wrestling Championship March 16 and 17, 2013, at Griffith Field House here.
The team comprises all, but one, first-year Air Force Wrestling members. The lack of experience is a challenge, but it also provides an advantage because members will have a fresh perception on the competition, said Richard Estrella, Air Force Wrestling head coach.
Estrella has coached for the Air Force Wrestling program on and off for 22 years. Some of his coaching achievements include the 2007 Wrestling World Champions title with Team USA and the 2003 and 2004 Open National Championship National Team titles with the Air Force team.
"The 2013 team is the most inexperienced team I've ever coached," said Estrella. "The less experienced ones learning from the more seasoned athletes gives me a great deal of satisfaction as a coach, which I credit to the athletes bonding so quickly as a team. I'm very grateful to the Air Force and my athletes' home units who all made this possible through their support."
The team never showed any animosity toward each other and bonded within two days of meeting, said Senior Airman Nate Higgins, 48th Aerospace Medicine Squadron public health mission capability technician at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.
Higgins, along with all other competitors, will compete in two wrestling styles at the tournament.
Armed Forces Wrestling Championships are split into seven weight categories and two wrestling styles - Greco-Roman and freestyle. Greco-Roman wrestling is done without using an opponent's legs as a means for a takedown. Freestyle wrestling allows leg grabbing for opponent takedowns.
The athletes have come a long way since their selection to the team. They work diligently to hold their positions. They follow a vigorous daily training regimen for more than 12 hours a day with only one day off a week.
"The whole team wakes up at 6 a.m. and begi
ns the day with a three-mile run and lifting weight," said Senior Airman Terrell Walker, 439th Supply Chain Operations Squadron at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. We then eat breakfast before practicing on the mats from eight-thirty to ten-thirty. After a break, we return for drills from one to two-thirty. Finally, we come back for more practice on the mats until six thirty, when our training day is over."
Team members say the regimen comprises mainly intense physical training with a focus on increasing stamina and technique.
"The main thing we do in any given day is face each other in grind matches which are long sessions of wrestling," said Higgins. "Grind matches test everyone's willpower to push forward after an hour of intense physical strain."
Estrella also uses less strenuous activities to train members on morale and team member cohesion.
"Coach has us play a game similar to ultimate Frisbee, to break up the monotony of our training," said Tech Sgt. Sherwin Severin, 11th Security Forces Squadron operations support NCO at Joint Base Andrews, Md. "The game is played with a ball instead of a Frisbee. We make the losing team's captain wear bright colored tights everywhere we go, which is a huge morale booster for the whole team."
A proper diet is also an aspect of training for the wrestlers, which can be overlooked.
"My diet is ironic, because I'm trying to lose weight and I eat a lot of fast food," said Walker. "I justify eating unhealthier than I usually do since I burn off so much weight every day."
Most wrestlers attempt to get down to their lowest weight through diet and exercise to compete in the lowest weight class possible, said Walker.
The majority of team members are not new to the sport.
"I was required to list all my wrestling experiences and achievements when I submitted my application for the team," said Severin.
Every team member applied for their spot. The coach called applicants he considered for a spot on the team shortly after receiving applications, said Walker.
Anyone interested in joining the team is required to fill out an Air Force Form 303- Request for USAF Specialized Sports Training.
"My main experiences were with Europe International Wrestling and Aviano Wrestling Club where I placed fifth in a tournament," said Severin. "I competed often in high school wrestling, winning titles to include: three-time district champion, two-time regional champion and fifth place in the Orange Bowl."
Some team members don't have as much experience as Severin.
"The majority of my experience comes from wrestling with an off-base club in London," said Higgins.
Higgins and others with less experience can still contribute to the collaborative team effort.
All athletes on the team have faith they will score points in the championship, despite their lack of experience. The important factor is scoring as much as possible, said Estrello.
The athletes run from one side of the room to the other once they finish their grind matches. Estrello demands the wrestlers line up and gives them feedback on their practice, including strengths and weaknesses. The individuals form two lines for the water cooler and the scale. Some wrestlers step outside to cool down where they immediately begin emitting steam due to the temperature difference. Others stay inside and help wipe sweat off each other. The athletes then, gradually, begin dissipating from the training facility where they will soon return.
The 2013 Armed Forces Wrestling Championship at Griffith Field House will include:
- Greco-Roman Dual Meets first session March 16, 2013, 10 a.m. The Dual Meets second session will follow 30 minutes after the first session. The Dual Meets third session will begin at 1 p.m.
- Freestyle Dual Meets first session March 17, 2013, 9 a.m. The Dual Meets second session will follow 30 minutes after the first session. The Dual Meets third session will begin at 1 p.m.