Just like other professional athletes, training and competing is their job -- but ultimately, these Soldier-athletes work to earn a spot to represent the U.S., the U.S. Army, and the Colorado National Guard in the Olympics.
The U.S. Army's World Class Athlete Program provides outstanding Soldier-athletes the support and training to compete and succeed in national and international competitions leading to Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Among the hundreds of athletes in WCAP, 11 are Colorado National Guardsmen; nine compete in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling the other two are coaches.
Recognized as one of the oldest sports in world history, wrestling is a balance of strength, agility, endurance and technique.
Although Greco-Roman wrestling has been a main focus of the modern Olympic Games for more than 100 years, the International Olympic Committee executive board recently voted to eliminate the sport from the 2020 Games.
“Wrestling is one of the most diverse core sports with more than 200 countries having membership,” said CONG Staff Sgt. Jason Kutz, WCAP wrestling coach. “As a wrestling community, we are staying positive and joining together as nations. Wrestling has been included in every modern Games since 1896 and it is our hope that it will continue.”
Both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling are combat sports between two competitors. Each tries to gain control over his or her opponent using throws, locks, and clinching techniques. In freestyle, holds can involve using one's legs to pin the opponent's shoulders to the mat. In Greco-Roman style, holds and pins are only legal by using the upper body. Ultimately, a wrestler would prefer a pin to end the match, but if regular time expires without a pin, the winner is decided based on points scored.
Points are scored in multiples of one, three and five points for the various offensive and defensive moves, but “you always want to be offensive,” said Sgt. Nathan Engel, member of the 1st Battalion 157th Field Artillery and WCAP 121 pound (55 kilogram) Greco-Roman wrestler.
All WCAP Soldiers serve on active duty orders to train and compete, therefore they don't drill regularly with a unit. However, they also must remain proficient in their military skills.
“Our mission is to make the Olympic team and win medals,” said Engle. “Win or lose we represent the Army -- the Soldiers.”
WCAP athletes spend their days training and competing, but take breaks from day-to-day operations to participate in Army schools, attend range days and have weekly classes on Army tasks.
Engle joined the Guard after getting to know other members of WCAP at competitions around the world.
“The Army team always placed really high and I wanted to be a part of that,” he said.
WCAP wrestler Sgt. Spencer Mango, of the 188th Forward Support Company, attended the Olympics in London 2012. Engle was there to help him train.
“It’s one big family, just like the Army,” said Engle.
During training, coaches want the athletes to succeed, but like the Army, they also want the athletes to fail. It’s a way to analyze how the competitor will react, respond and continue to get better -- just like Soldiers in the field, Engle said.
“There is so much discipline,” said Engle. “It’s a lifestyle. I cook my own meals to stay on a steady diet and do extra cardio. It makes you mature a lot. You’re trying to be the best you can. Do the job 100 percent. Other people are counting on me to keep them safe -- and vice-versa -- when we train or get deployed.”
Engle attended basic combat training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill, Okla.
“It was difficult being the 'older' guy because all the other recruits were much younger than me,” he said, “but it wasn’t all that hard and I graduated top of the class.”
While WCAP members aren't typically deployable, sometimes athletes will choose to deploy then come back to the sport when they return.
“The Army pays me to compete, and after 2016 I might try OCS (Officer Candidate School) or WOC (Warrant Officer Candidate School)," said Engle. "I feel like I want to give back.”
According to WCAP, Soldier-athletes reinforce a positive image of the Army. They provide an image of excellence for all Soldiers to strive for, and provide positive role models for peer groups and youth while enhancing the publics' pride in America's armed forces.
WCAP Soldiers support the U.S. Army Recruiting Command's mission by conducting clinics and making appearances at high schools and colleges. Each year, Soldier-athletes participate in numerous speaking engagements with high school students and athletic teams in support of Army recruiting stations.
Since 1948, 615 Soldiers have represented the U.S. at the Summer and Winter Olympic Games as athletes and coaches, earning 142 medals in a variety of sports including bobsled, track and field, boxing, wrestling, and shooting.
Since the WCAP inception in 1997, 40 Soldier-athletes have won Olympic Medals.
WCAP offers all members of the active duty Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard the same opportunity for selection. In order for a Guardsman to be brought on active duty and become a member of WCAP, he or she must be in good military standing and compete in an Olympic sport. Additionally, enlisted Soldiers must have completed basic and advanced individual training. Officers must have completed their branch officer basic course.