BREMERTON, Wash. — The battle will be one on one, and the battlefield is tight - only 23 feet in diameter. When the whistle blows, the battle begins. Focus is key. The challenger approaches, and the two foes grapple for control in the arena with one goal in mind; to pin the other to the mat.
Amateur wrestling is not for the weak nor the weak-minded, and it is helping three individuals on board USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) become better competitors, human beings, and Sailors.
Nearly one month ago the All-Navy Wrestling Team gathered at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton to begin training to compete against the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps in the Armed Forces Competition at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The team is coached by Chief Navy Diver Alejandro Delapena, and though the team consists of athletes with several different levels of wrestling experience and career backgrounds, they all have one goal, and that is to compete and win as a team.
"This program really allows each Sailor to showcase their desire and passion," said Delapena, who has been with the team for over 14 years. "They all learn individual drive and teamwork, and all of that is brought back to their command and re-emphasized there."
The three Sailors from John C. Stennis are Operations Specialist 3rd Class Genesis Ramirez, from El Paso, Texas, Airman Jasmine Frank, from Los Angeles, and Airman Sheldon Ealy, from Newark, New Jersey.
Ramirez, who wrestled all four years of high school, is competing in her second Armed Forces Competition.
"I hope to beat Army and bring back a gold medal," said Ramirez, whose sister was the first female wrestler on the All-Navy wrestling team. "I wasn't able to wrestle in college due to some financial issues, so when I found out about the program, I got really excited and didn't think twice about it. It's such a competitive sport. When you're on the mat it's only you and your opponent, and only one of you will have your hand raised in the end."
Frank, who only very recently started wrestling, is relishing the opportunity to be a part of the team and take on a new challenge.
"I had just finished a training exercise in the gym and started speaking to the coach on one of my friend's behalf and learned that the team only had one other female, and they needed more," said Frank. "I saw the opportunity to challenge myself and I ran with it. Wrestling allows me to do something for myself, my country and the Navy. Plus, I love the challenge that wrestling brings. It's a different type of workout... we push ourselves throughout the day, training twice a day. It definitely shows you how strong you are and how strong you can become."
Ealy, who has been wrestling for six years, leaped at the opportunity to join the team.
"I first heard about the program when I ran into coach Delapena at the gym, and my love for the sport inspired me to join," said Ealy. "What I really like the most about wrestling is that it's just you and your opponent on the mat, giving everything you have to win."
Going into the competition, the Navy wrestling team faces a huge training deficit. The Army has wrestlers that train full time and the Marine Corps wrestlers train at least a year in advance, but the Navy only trains in the month leading up to the event. Nevertheless, coach Delapena and the rest of his team expect to bring home the gold.
"With heart, grit, passion and determination, our Sailors will get their hands raised and win gold medals," said the coach. "They will perform as an individual, but be backed as a team that does not quit when the matches are tough."
If any of the team's competitors perform well enough at the competition, they could be selected to continue training for future events, such as the Military World Championship. Only time will tell how far the John C. Stennis Sailors could go, but they have their command's support regardless.
"The challenge is the best part, but the support I receive gives me that extra push that I need," said Frank. "I am absolutely humbled by this experience the Navy has allowed me to have, and look forward to continuing to better my skills as a wrestler."