You can learn from anybody

I always liked this story that my coach has told a bunch. It just kind of shows that you can pick up something from the most unlikely place sometimes.

My coach wrestled Greco for a long time. I believe this happened around the 96 Olympic trials. Might have been 2000. Anyway back then a lot of top wrestlers trained around Phoenix, loosely affiliated with Sunkist Kids or USA Wrestling. The wrestling room at ASU used to be in the basement of the basketball arena. It was pretty easy to get into, especially during summer since nobody is really around so almost anyone could just walk in there.

My coach showed up at his predetermined time to get in a workout and drill with whoever he had arranged to train with that day. He goes into the locker room and finds a homeless guy in there who told him he was just trying to stay out of the heat and maybe get a shower. The old wrestling room was built in like the late 60s or 70s so by then it was at least 20 years old and not exactly the cleanest place. So you can imagine what the showers and locker rooms probably looked like.

My coach figured the guy wasn’t bothering anyone or making a mess so he let him be. And got on the mat and started warming up and stretching, waiting for his workout partner to get there. So while he was doing that he started talking to the homeless guy and the homeless guy was saying he used to wrestle. My coach is humoring the guy and thought ok maybe he did and saw he looked pretty strong and thought ok maybe he isn’t BSing me. So my coach’s workout partner obviously isn’t showing up and he asks the homeless guy if he wanted to get a workout in, figuring the guy is a body he can work with. So the homeless guy goes to his shopping cart and pulls out a pair of old wrestling shoes and an old USA singlet. And my coach says they’ll start with some par terre (mat wrestling) and see how it goes. And my coach can see the wheels turning in this guy’s head. It was obvious he could wrestle but hadn’t in years and was trying to remember how to do things. Anyway my coach tells him that he gets to start on top and try to turn him.

So my coach gets into the defensive position and figures he can let the guy get a lock and defend it. Well this guy gets a solid Cuban grip into some kind of a straddle lift and launches my coach. He was absolutely stunned. He immediately asked him to show how he did that because he had never seen that particular grip and throw sequence before. After talking to him it turned out this guy had been on the US team ladder (top 10 usually) for a cycle in the 80s and had gotten into some kind of accident where he hit his head and suffered some kind of brain damage and eventually became homeless. This guy knew Melvin Douglas and later Melvin apparently recognized his name and told my coach he had been pretty good, usually around like 4th or so at the trials every year.

So sometimes you can learn from the unlikeliest of sources. And you might have a cool story to tell like that.


nice story. guessing there’s no update on the guy’s well-being.

This happened around 25 years ago. So I have no idea.

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