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Sep 10, 2015

By Chris Chorzepa ’17

Imagine the following scene: a scrawny 9-year-old sitting in a corner, facing the wall, still wearing his singlet straps up, and crying intensely. Yes, I was this scrawny 9-year-old, and this was a pretty common scene for me. It happened every time I lost a match. The problem was, I lost almost all my matches my first year. This constant stream of tears earned me a rather demeaning nickname from the high school kids: “Crybaby Chris.”

I was obviously not a very good wrestler at first; in fact, I was not very good at anything at the time. The main reason for this was the inner ear problems I had as a child. To this day, I have perforated eardrums that open and close at random. The inner ear problems threw off my balance limiting my athletic abilities, and my impaired hearing prevented me from speaking much, limiting my social and academic abilities.

I was consistently below average in the sports I tried. I was in remedial reading classes and I did not have many friends. I was a 9-year-old that was not good at anything, which hurt my confidence, further hurting my performance in social, academic, and athletic settings.

Wrestling has brought me from crybaby Chris to the picture accompanying this post showing me on top in an NCAA championships match. I won by finding the sport of wrestling and getting opportunities to share it with others. Wrestling helped me excel in school and get into Williams College, annually acclaimed one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation. I won state and New England titles in high school, and have placed third and fourth in the nation my first two years of college, earning All-American honors.

God presented me with challenging circumstances that I had to deal with, similar to the young children in the Boston area I got to know and work with this past summer that are often presented with different kinds of challenges. Luckily for me, when I was presented with the opportunity to wrestle it forever changed my life.

I interned this summer at Boston Youth Wrestling (BYW), where we used wrestling to inspire at-risk youth to work hard towards athletic, academic, and personal success. I cannot think of a better vehicle for developing strong work habits than the sport of wrestling or a more worthy cause. I am always glad to be able to do what I can to grow the sport of wrestling, and to share it with as many people as possible. Considering all that the sport has done for me, it is almost my duty to share it with others.

The BYW founder and president is Jose Valenzuela ’07. Valenzuela is a history/social studies teacher at Boston Latin Academy (public school) and graduated from Williams with a B. A. in history, a minor in Latina/o Studies and having wrestled for the Ephs for four years.

Valenzuela started BYW in 2012 and his wrestling program works with at-risk youth aged 11-15.

Supporting Valenzuela’s efforts are three additional former Eph wrestlers. Lars Ojukwu ’08 who also lettered in football for the Ephs majored in Chinese while at Williams, and is currently Senior Program Development Associate at The Cambridge Institute of International Education in Cambridge, Mass. Matt Stephan ’08 majored in economics, and is currently a Municipal Bond Credit Analyst for Columbia Threadneedle Investments. Nic Miragliuolo ’08 majored in economics and is currently receiving his MBA from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

I love wrestling, and it is one of the main reasons that I am the man I am today. It gave me an outstanding support system and taught me the value of sustained hard work. For that reason, I will always do what I can to thank wrestling by praising it to anyone who will listen and growing it however I can. Wrestling changed my life, and I am used my time at BYW to give those that need it the opportunity to do the same.

I went to BYW this summer because wrestlers stick together and support each other. In fact, most of my friends are from wrestling. Wrestling is such a unique experience in its gladiatorial nature and extreme difficulty; no one ever forgets that wrestlers are a unique breed and they gravitate towards each other.

Wrestling is an astonishingly hard activity. We train very hard. Not only do we work hard, we do not do it for the glory. There is no professional league and wrestling is not a mainstream sport with tons of fans. So, it takes a special person to want to wrestle, let alone at a high level. I have been through so much with my teammates and coaches, and count them among my closest friends, and most influential mentors. They are an incredible support system and some of the best people I have ever met. I am so lucky to have found the sport of wrestling and to have come into contact with all these awesome people. Thus, I want to help any wrestlers I can, especially those that could really benefit from competing as a wrestler.

Wrestling has taught me many important lessons, especially in those early years when I lost most matches. Wrestling is hard enough without losing all the time. Anyone that has been exposed to the sport can tell you that wrestlers work absurdly hard. Despite all of that, I never considered quitting. I loved the individual aspect of wrestling knowing I was the only one I had to worry about.

If I worked harder and got better, it was immediately reflected in my performance. Wrestling is simple and fair, so it is easy for kids of all ages and backgrounds to understand and connect with. I also just found wrestling fun. Just like virtually all of our wrestlers at BYW, I liked to “slam people.” Many people think it is hard to recruit new wrestlers because wrestling is not a particularly popular sport and there is a stigma that comes with a sport where participants wear spandex and grapple with each other. However, I have found that this is not always, or even usually, the case. Most kids are very eager when presented with the opportunity to roughhouse with some of their friends, and many young men and women in cities are glad to have an outlet to channel their frustration in a constructive and fun way.

My love for the sport and perseverance has paid off for me. I hated to lose, and used that to light a fire under myself and work harder to get better. This paid off, as I continually got better and won more and more matches. I liked seeing such tangible results, so I invested more and more of myself into the sport. I still got beat up a lot, but as the motto goes, “The more you wrestle, the better you get. The better you get, the more you wrestle.” In wrestling, hard work correlates almost directly with success in a way that almost no other sport does; some people are born taller and faster than others and are thus better at basketball, whereas any shape or size kid can find success in wrestling.

The focus and work ethic I got from wrestling extends beyond the wrestling mat as well. I was finally really good at something, which gave me the confidence to perform well in other areas. I had potential before; I was just too scared to use it. I started getting all A’s as well, and this excellence in athletics and academics gave me the confidence to put myself out there and make friends. Wrestling completely changed my life, and I want to extend this blessing to as many people as possible. That is why I went to BYW to try to spread wrestling’s value to those who could really use it. Wrestling was of great value to me as a young man, and I just wanted to share that gift with others.

I got to meet many young people that can say similar things about what wrestling has done for them during my summer at BYW. Many of them came from less than desirable situations at home, and thus did not have the support or motivation to pursue success in school, sports or their personal lives; however, getting on the wrestling mat has helped them to start overcoming these obstacles.

I met several young men who credited the confidence they got from wrestling and especially the mentors they met while wrestling with BYW for graduating from high school, getting into college, improving their grades, or just making them a better, more caring person. Meeting these young people and hearing their stories was unquestionably the highlight of my summer.

A close second was all the work I did in forming schedules and growing BYW to help the organization reach approximately 100 kids that may someday soon be able to tell the same stories. I am so proud to have spent my summer growing the sport of wrestling and working to improve the lives of some Boston youths.