Wrestlers take the mat

During the fall of 2012, WSU junior Brett Johnson and three of his friends started WSU’s Wrestling Club through the support of the University Recreation Board.

Driven by a love for the sport and the desire to experience it at a college level, the group shaped itself as a competitive team, Johnson said. This week they’ll be testing that competition and skill at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association Championships in Allen, Texas.

“After starting just last year and already making it to nationals, it’s a successful club,” said Jill Warwick, marketing intern with UREC. Participants include qualifying team members from clubs all around the nation.

Christopher Gambino, the team’s coach, said the club qualified through individual members placing first or second in their weight class at a conference tournament two weeks ago against Central Washington University.

Freshman Bailey Poitra, one of the members that placed, has wrestled since he was six.

“I’m really glad that I joined,” Poitra said. “It’s helped me not only with wrestling but life in general.”

This life changing aspect is expressed through an incorporation of community members with the club, Gambino said. The members put a lot of effort into practice, competition and interactions off the mat.

“I would say my favorite part is watching people mature,” Gambino said.

Johnson said he doesn’t really think of WSU Wrestling as a sport club, but more of a brotherhood of friends that works together toward a common goal. That common goal is success on and off the mat.

“Wrestling is more of a lifestyle than a sport,” Gambino said. “It’s a passion that never runs out.”

They support each other in practice and in a match, knowing when to focus, work hard or push to be better.

Dedication is needed while out on the mat. A wrestler needs to be quick and sometimes respond faster than their brains can process, Gambino said. There are no time-outs or time slots for the coach to gather the team and reorganize: just seven minutes of burning lungs and legs.

“It’s a physical battle between two physically fit human beings,” Johnson said. “A battle for who wants it more.”

There is a risk for injury, just like any sport. Gambino reports that they’ve seen concussions, knee injuries, LCL injuries, and a few sprained ankles. But he said there is a distinction between being hurt and being injured.

“I try to instill that people are constantly hurt and you’re going to have to work through the aches and pains,” Gambino said.

Despite the difficulties, Gambino, Johnson and Poitra agree that being a part of the brotherhood-like team has paid off. Their motto is “all-in,” and each member acknowledges the effort that makes this a reality.

“It’s cool to be a part of something bigger than myself,” Poitra said. “It wouldn’t be nearly as special with just wrestling.”

The team members hope to gain recognition through their efforts in this competition and elevate the status of Washington State Wrestling. The team leaves for the competition in Texas at 5 a.m. Wednesday.