Jon Anderson’s Major Commitment to Leadership, Passion, and Improvement

Jon Anderson, US Army WCAP, Greco-Roman wrestling
Maj. Jon Anderson -- Photo: Tony Rotundo

“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is not a “little engine that could” kind of story. Too easy. Trite, if not downright redundant. Even if you were to pick up the tattered pages of such a tale, it wouldn’t be long before you put the book down in haste, breathing a sorrowful sigh of disappointment. Despite its binding cracking at the seams from curious overuse, your expectations remain dangling unfulfilled. Words which promise to usher you to a different, more inspiring place ought to establish themselves with a touch more flourish, no?

Jon Anderson is not a little engine, though a motor of some sort may indeed be combusting within his chest cavity. To relegate Anderson (Army/WCAP) to the world of the trite is not only misleading, but in a way, insulting. Not to him, but to you. Because if there is anything you can learn from this soldier, this father, this athlete, is that the same cogs responsible for cycling his gears could be found inside all of us. In fact, a big part of his duty as an officer in the US Army is aiding his charges in discovering that very fact.

Maybe the one deviation in Anderson’s case is that he suspected there was more to his story, more kindling than the average fire necessitates. How else do you explain a third-year high school wrestler emailing a college coach with the subject line “Future NCAA and Olympic champ”, even though he never competed in national-level competition before? Or that it in his mid-20’s began learning Greco-Roman and actually grew into becoming a legitimate Olympic Team candidate? How do you reconcile that? These things, they aren’t coincidences or happy accidents. The greatness of men is often obscured by their own disjointed illusions. Only clarity in the objective can remove such a blurry screen.

An error would be to liken Anderson’s ascension up the Greco-Roman ladder to a direct path. That it has not been. By design. Anderson, 32, is a very real leader in this country’s Army, a newly-minted Major. His decade-plus service to the United States of America and all she stands for takes precedence over his wrestling career. Anderson has a family, too. A wife, two kids. Boys. The road has a bit of a wind to it, but it is on an incline just the same.

You can learn a lot from a man who understands faith, leadership, balance, and passion. You can learn even more when those concepts are what he devotes his life to. Jon Anderson might be a name worth knowing for his non-stop electricity on the mat — that is without argument. But he is also here to provide a nice reminder that obstacles, regardless of their shape or size, only exist for the sheer purpose of being vanquished. So long as you have the will to see it that way.

5PM Interview with Jon Anderson

5PM: How does somebody get into West Point?

Jon Anderson: There are a few steps. There is an application process like with any college. The toughest part is probably getting the Congressional or Senate nomination. It is part of the application, getting that nomination. That’s competitive. You have to interview, you have to go through a process to be selected, and there are a limited amount of nominations for each state. That is probably the biggest decider. West Point looks for well-rounded folks. You don’t have to have a 4.0 to get in there, I certainly didn’t. You have to have good SAT scores, but they don’t have to be off the charts, either. You have to be well-rounded — club involvement, sports involvement, good grades, and pretty decent test scores.

They’re looking for a total package. That is kind of the gist of it. There are some other routes as far as recruitment for athletes. That helps, as well. It is probably a step up compared to the average applicant.

5PM: How did wrestling play a factor in your acceptance to West Point?

JA: I decided really late that I wanted to go to West Point or that I even could. I started wrestling in tenth grade. In eleventh grade I made varsity and placed in the states and then senior year, I was a state runner-up. Sometime during that senior year season, it was like, Alright, let’s apply to college. I want to wrestle in college and I want to join the Army. West Point provided all three of those. I shot the head coach an email and said I was interested, and that started our dialogue. I sent him a video and submitted an application, and everything fell in line. I had a few other options in Virginia, George Mason, Virginia Tech, some other small offers to wrestle for those guys. But once West Point was approved, there was no doubt I wanted to go there.

5PM: You’re 32 now, right? You are still pretty new at 32.

JA: I started wrestling in tenth grade, so I’m really only like, 22 (laughs).

5PM: Leadership is obviously a big point of emphasis in the military and perhaps more sophisticated than civilians might understand. What does leadership as a whole mean to you?

JA: You’re absolutely right, leadership is the primary focus of the military. Trust, showing genuine care for others. Focus on continuous improvement, what the Army calls Subordinate Development. You’re also working on improving soldiers in your unit. Recognizing the success in others and having that relationship, that genuine care for others. Leading by example. That gives you the ability to give constructive criticism, as well.

I look at leadership as a tool and it is a lifestyle. It’s who you are. Good leaders enhance individual and unit performance. Defining the purpose of direction and influencing others to accomplish a mission — that’s the definition of leadership that I have and that the Army teaches. But you have to understand that there is a difference between a natural leader and an organizational leader. There are a lot of people who are good natural leaders but organizational leadership is more of a learned skill and the Army has one of the best ways out there to teach it, because they give you so many opportunities to practice. What I mean by that is at West Point, you have leadership positions. You get a chance to screw things up and learn from your mistakes. And you get a lot of chances to get it right. Eventually, you find out who you really are and how to best influence others to accomplish that mission.

As a 2nd Lieutenant upon graduating from West Point, you’re a platoon leader for the other soldiers, the NCO’s, and you’re put in charge of a lot of men and women’s lives, so it becomes a little more serious. From there, it continues to grow. You get more chances to lead more organizations and develop yourself and others. Up to company command, I’ve done that. The next step for me will be battalion command, which is a thousand soldiers. That is the essence of success in the military, good leadership. You can’t have success without good leadership.

Another thing I will say about the Army is that there is a misconception. It is not just about compliance. That’s what a lot of people think, that people of higher rank tell the lower ranks what to do. Certainly, that is there when needed. But that isn’t what the best leaders do. They don’t have compliance, they have commitment. They have people who are on board and share the same passion and unity among all people in the unit, and everyone is an important part of what we’re doing. You’re part of a team and you are out there to perform well in the most important situations and ultimately fight and win our nation’s wars. People join the Army to be part of a team that does that and leadership is what makes it possible.

5PM: How do you see leadership in wrestling as both of your careers have progressed? How do you apply leadership principles you have gained as an officer to your career as a competitor? That might be a better way of asking it.

JA: Both of them take leading by example, being out front and leading the way. It is not always about being the fastest person on a run or placing the highest in a tournament. It’s about having a positive attitude or that core mindset that anyone can feed off of you saying, “You know what? I can get better, too.” That drives others to step up their game and push each other. Wrestling is more of an informal leadership role. I think both of them take a large amount of emotional intelligence. You can be a smart person, well-educated, but if you don’t have that social awareness or self-awareness of when or how to say things to certain people, then you are going to miss a point and lose credibility. I think I have applied that emotional intelligence to both sides really well and it is part of a winning organization.

5PM: Attitude and approach, various mental skills and training, are a part of your concentration. You have went so far as to help develop mental tactics that are used in training. What piqued your interest in this field?

Jon Anderson: Wrestling (laughs). Wrestling is all about mental toughness and pushing yourself past the limits you thought you had. I was exposed to that during my sophomore year. I played every sport growing up and I was decent at every sport. It wasn’t until my sophomore year and by the way, I was 112 pounds soaking wet and maybe five feet tall, and my football coach introduced me to the wrestling coach. He said, “Anderson has a big heart, he’ll make a good wrestler, he should come out for the team.” So I went out there in my socks slipping around the mat, really enjoyed it, kids were my own size. But as the season progressed I realized, Wow, football season was easy. (Laughs)

I had some good mentors. My junior year, one of the assistant coaches really took me under his wing and he was big on mental skills. He had me write my goals down and he helped learn that mental edge which allowed me to progress rapidly. When I got to West Point, they have the Center for Enhanced Performance where they have a whole department that focuses on mental skills training, so I immediately jumped into that and continued to use that during my four years there.

In the Army, back in 2007, they had a kind of pilot program going and I integrated what they now call Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness and the performance enhancement side to that was they worked with units and soldiers, and I have incorporated that at every level of leadership I’ve been involved with. And I’ve seen great results both personally and organizationally when we have applied it to enhance performance. Increased efficiency in training, increased overall morale and motivation, and it is a tool to inspire others to be their best. When you’re focusing on improvement and you’re talking about, Hey, how can I re-focus my attention after a mistake?, and you’re getting soldiers closer to that. Or you’re applying that to your wrestling, or whatever that might be. People take hold of that and when they apply it, I’ve seen significant changes.

5PM: You say “mental toughness.” That, in wrestling speak, is kind of a catch-all, it can mean different things at different times for a wrestler. Given your experience on a more formal level with mental skills training, are there still things you learn in terms of attitude that you pick up from other wrestlers?

JA: Sure. I look at high-level wrestlers and I definitely observe people when they wrestle and particularly before, depending on if I’m competing that day or whatever. But I’ve observed people and their routines and those kinds of things. What’d I say is that I have a lot of experience and that is how most wrestlers figure it out. They have been wrestling a long time and becoming mentally tough is a byproduct of that. But I also have an education in this aspect, I earned a Master’s Degree in Sports Psychology, so I think I probably have a better understanding than most out there regarding the science and the art behind the mind and how that works. It’s certainly a passion of mine to always improve. Everyone has something significant to offer and I don’t miss any of those opportunities when they are available. I’m continuously growing, that’s the key to my success in the military and in wrestling, that I am always looking for ways to improve. Looking to my left and my right is where I learn the most sometimes.

Jon Anderson at the 2015 Pan Am Games

Anderson (blue) ran right past Querys Perez (VEN) with a 9-0 technical fall to win the 2015 Pan Am Games, the first such title of his career. (Photo: Tony Rotundo)

5PM: What is the biggest challenge you encounter managing your wrestling career while also being a full-time officer in the Army? The Army obviously comes first, but are there times when your athletic aspirations are forced to take a backseat at say, an inopportune time?

JA: The great thing about the Army is that it’s not a cookie-cutter career path you have to follow. I’ve been pretty creative in the way I’ve gone through my career up to this point and there is a really good mentor that I have who has helped me understand there are certain dates you have to have as an officer. There are certain times when you need to get command done, there are certain times when you have to get schools accomplished and completed. They are called Key Development Jobs. You basically balance your timeline in your Key Development Job window and around that, you look at the wrestling calendar and coordinate as best as possible to support each other.

Up to this point, I’ve been able to do both. I spent six years with what they call “regular Army”, an infantry unit, that kind of stuff. I was in 123 Infantry in Fort Lewis and I went to Iraq with those guys. Then I went down to command at Fort Benning. Following that is when I made WCAP in 2012. That’s when I started Greco, in 2011. I’m still new in the sport and loving every day of it and I love every day in the Army. I’m able to do both but it takes risks, not following that cookie-cutter, it’s a little outside the box. But as long as you do a good job in your current position and be that leader the Army needs and you have the ability to be, typically the Army will recognize that. I’ve been able to balance both so far.

As far as for an overall challenge, the balance is tough. It’s toughest on my family because when I’m out going to school, deployed, or I am overseas wrestling, it’s harder on them. And I say that because when I am away, I miss them every day but I am focused on the mission and that kind of consumes my mind. Whereas they are at home trying to keep everything going, and missing a piece of the family is tough on them. On my kids especially, and also my wife. Keeping that balance and investing in them, learning that there is a time to take breaks and focus on each priority one at a time, rather than spreading your attention across all of your priorities. Family, spiritual, military, wrestling, friendships, fitness…it’s all important, but you have to focus on what’s important now and have a plan to keep the biggest priorities in-tune.

5PM: The way you made WCAP is quite extraordinary compared to how most seem to end up there. For readers who don’t know, how exactly did that come about?

JA: It was a tough road (laughs). I had some setbacks and roadblocks that came with being determined and being creative in finding ways to get the training I needed to meet that entry standard to make the program. In 2008, after West Point, I decided I was going to table wrestling for a while and focus on my military career. But during that time there was the Army Combatives tournament, which is the Army’s version of MMA (mixed martial arts). It’s basically designed to teach hand-to-hand combat, the will to close with, and (how to) defeat the enemy when needed. In 2008, I entered that tournament and got my butt kicked and realized, Hey, jiu jitsu is pretty important, too, so I started doing a lot of combatives, jiu jitsu, muay Thai, wrestling, and all that stuff. It kept me focused and motivated, and I did that through Iraq. Every night we would find a little dojo. We’d train in there and find local contractors on the FOB (Forward Operating Base) who knew jiu jitsu and just teach each other stuff. It’s a good way to let out some steam after a hard day’s work and still work on improving yourself.

I kept at it knowing that when I returned home after this deployment I wanted to redeem myself at the next combatives tournament. So after this deployment I went back to Fort Benning to command and about a month back, the 2010 All-Army Combatives Tournament was scheduled and I ended up linking with a battalion commander who wrestled at JMU and just loved to roll. So we would find some time after morning PT and we’d train in the shed. They were pretty low quality mats and we had five people on them. We’d do round robins and get ready for the tournament. I won the tournament and it was my springboard back into wrestling. It got me a little credibility with my chain of command and they saw me win that by beating a guy I probably shouldn’t have beaten. Them seeing me do that gave them full trust in my potential. They told me, “Following your command, we’ll support you in going out to All-Army camp to try out for the team and make a run for the program.”

I started watching Greco videos and we were teaching each other stuff. I had no clue. Keith Sieracki was the first person who came out and showed me some real Greco and it was pretty embarrassing how he mopped the mat with me (laughs). But he won’t rematch me now, I’ve tried calling him out, he stays up in Woodland Park (laughs). But he helped me get that initial exposure and then I went out to Dave Schultz thinking, I’m going to win this, I’m in great shape. I won one match, but I also got pinned once and I lost another match. I left there 1-2 feeling pretty crushed. Then I went onto Nationals and went 2-2 there. I believe I sent an application to WCAP around that time saying, Hey, I won the All-Army Combatives tournament, I’m progressing on the Greco scene and I show potential. But they rejected my application, which was the right call — you have to be top five in the US, that’s the entry standard for WCAP.

So I didn’t make it then. It’s 2011 now. I kept at it, though. Any tournament or any chance I had to compete, I did. The big switch happened when I went out on TDY, which is Temporary Duty. From Fort Benning I went out to Colorado to train. You have to be in the room to get to that next level. I was able to train out there for awhile, I won the Armed Forces (Championships) and went to the Nationals where I placed seventh. That was right before the Olympic year, a super-stacked weight class, and qualified for the Olympic Trials. I applied for WCAP and was like, You know what? Surely they are going to take me now, I’m top seven in the US, I’m progressing at a rapid pace… And I got rejected again (laughs). That was kind of a heartbreaker. But instead of packing my bags and going home, I decided to buy house in Colorado. It was like, Damn, I’m going to make this team. I was just that confident I was going to make it.

The Olympic Trials is where that moment happened. I came in as the seventh seed and beat Andy Bisek and was a point away from beating Ben Provisor. I then came back and pinned Jake Fisher for third. Those are guys I never even touched before that. I never had close matches with any of them. That’s when I made the National team and made WCAP. That was the turning point.

5PM: You kind of smash a narrative. Greco-Roman coaches are always encouraging an early start in the sport. Not only did you get a late start, but you were also older. And here you are. Given how far you’ve come, do you see that you have a natural inclination that just plays right into Greco? Secondly, do you regret not getting into Greco younger in high school, had you known?

Jon Anderson: Greco appealed to me because it was just a brawl and I’ve always been a brawler. At West Point, I got the name “Mr. Intensity” or my teammates would call me “Smokes” because I would smoke my opponents. Whenever I’d be in a tight match, they would be like, Come on Smokes! Go get him! So that’s the kind of the mantra that I live by. In Greco, you’ve seen how I wrestle. It’s always high intensity and I love to get in that battle. It’s just fun. I love to wrestle and Greco was just a great, great medium for me to do that on a consistent basis. Freestyle, I had a knee surgery in college, I didn’t like leg laces, and I wanted to get away from that. I figured my longevity would be better if I did Greco and gave my knees a little break, too, and it’s worked out pretty well.

Yeah, I would have liked to have started younger, it just really wasn’t a big thing in my area. It’s funny, because the email subject line I sent to the head coach at West Point said “Future NCAA Champion and Olympic Champion.” I’ve always had it in my mind that I am going to win the Olympics, but I was actually just learning the fundamentals of collegiate wrestling, I hadn’t delved into the international styles too much. I never went to Fargo or anything like that. But I think it’s wonderful to get that experience. When I talk to high school kids now, I tell them go get some Greco and freestyle matches in because wrestling is wrestling, and you’ll get better if you keep at it. It would have been something that I would have enjoyed I think, I do. Maybe in college if I went to the University Nationals and stuff I would have made it to the top a little quicker. But it’s all good, I like the path that I took and I’m still determined to go get that Olympic gold.

5PM: Yeah, but the fact you took the path you did is what made it all the more notable. Patrick Martinez is another one, he started full-time after college and found success quickly. But he didn’t really have a break so much. The fact you had a pretty long break after college wrestling is what I think surprises people. 

JA: I think one of the other benefits is that I matured pretty late, I grew five inches in college. I wrestled 125 my freshmen year at West Point and 165 my senior year. I was still growing while I was in college. Since then, I’ve wrestled up to 98 kilograms at the Hilton or whatever in Colorado Springs. I talk a lot about personal growth, but I actually physically grew (laughs). It’s crazy. But given that break, I was able to mature. Looking at pictures from when I was a 1st or 2nd Lieutenant I’m like, Damn, that dude is scrawny! (Laughs)

I had to grow up a little bit, but I was still staying on the mat in other ways. I think that has given me an edge, too, doing jiu jitsu and other forms of wrestling, if you will. Doing that helped me be a quick learner and stay involved in any kind of combative sport. It has been one of my keys, being creative and molding them all of them together.

Jon Anderson vs Jake Fisher

Anderson (blue) tries to lift Jake Fisher (Minnesota Storm) at the 2014 US Open. Anderson won the bout 2-1. (Photo: Tony Rotundo)

5PM: We just talked about it, but if there is one thing you are known for, it’s that one speed, never-ever-stop-always-in-your-face method you bring to matches. Did that make your transition easier, the fact you prefer that kind of constant, blitzing contact?

JA:  Yes, I think that covers a little technical gap that I have. So if I can come out there and catch people a little off-guard and bring them into deep water… When you are in deep water, you’re trying to survive, you’re not thinking about arm throwing or headlocking me necessarily. A lot of people’s technique, I can limit that and make up that ground in other ways. It goes into having a good strategy for each match and since I’ve been evolving, I am continuously looking at how I can be more consistent and beat the high-level guys every time. Even in these last couple of tournaments, I’ve been playing with my strategy a little bit, I’ve been a little more methodical in these last few tournaments because I’m still trying to grow. I’m still trying to find the best combination of technique and intensity. Maybe I was little too far off on the other end the last few tournaments, I was trying to develop that. I think this next tournament will be different. I’ve developed and decided who I am and how I need to wrestle now. I know exactly what works for me and I think you know what that is.

5PM: I know you’re 32, but we’ve written recently it looks like you still have plenty left. If anything, you actually look quicker and more capable than you did even a few years ago. That being said, are you committed for this entire next quad up to Tokyo?

JA: I’m winning Tokyo.

5PM: Have you always known that you were going till at least 2020?

JA: I looked at, kind of how I said it earlier, balancing the career timeline and those windows you have to hit for certain jobs. So looking back at 2012, my plan was to wrestle through 2016 and then go out two years to a regular unit and go right into those regular jobs. Now after I fell  short in 2016, I had to reassess my plan. Not that I didn’t want to wrestle in 2020, but after having won gold in 2016, I could take a couple years before 2020 and come back that last year or two before the Olympics. But now I’ve readjusted my strategy and I’m still doing both. I am going to essentially wait until after the 2020 Olympics to go do those Key Development Jobs as a Major in the Army.

In the meantime, I am doing this school, which is a requirement and there will be other short-term things I have to do between now and the Olympics, but I’ll be competing throughout the entire time and being creative in my career. Again, doing both. I love the Army and I love to wrestle, and we live in the best country in the world where I could do both. I am going to keep living this passion and enjoying the moment itself.

5PM: How long into your full-time pursuit of Greco-Roman competition did you realize you actually could be a World-level competitor? How long or how quickly did it take for you to understand your potentiality? 

Jon Anderson: I think I’ve always known. I don’t think there was necessarily a certain moment. I think I might have had unrealistic expectations, say coming out in 2011 to the Dave Schultz or the Nationals that year thinking, I’m going to win this thing, I’m going to tech everybody, and then I’m going to win the World Championships this year, make the Olympic Team next year and win the Olympics. But I honestly believed it. I was certainly a far ways off looking back now. But ignorance is bliss in that case because it got me to a level to make WCAP to where now, I really am in a position to win the Worlds and win the Olympics. This year. I can beat anyone this year. I’ve always had that belief, it has just become more realistic as I’ve progressed.

5PM: Are there matches or moments that you’d like to have back? Or do you look at it as more something to just learn from and move on?

JA: I look at things, letdowns or perceived failures, I take time to acknowledge them or be pissed off about them. But I don’t let that define me and to say I would regret any of that, I think that’s kind of focusing too much on something that is out of your control. So I try to turn all of those failures into stepping stones to success. And learn from them, like you said. But certainly, there are tough times. Wrestling is a tough sport and you have all of these expectations to do well, make a team, win a medal and when that doesn’t happen, it is hard to deal with, it is tough. But I take time to acknowledge it and then quickly move on to refocus my efforts onto what I can control, which is being a good husband, a good father, and a leader in the US Army. To me, that is the total picture of who you are and no one match or one call defines you. It’s who you are. For me, that’s my faith, my family, my friends, and my profession. That is the way I look at those things.

Yeah, it can piss me off. I’ll take time to think about bad calls or this and that, but you know what? That’s life and you need to focus on improving and that is the best you can do.

5PM: You said something really important here, which is the term “perceived failures.” I don’t think that hits home enough because failure, at its core, is subjective. And I think in wrestling, especially at the level guys like you operate on, everything is either success or failure it seems. Technically, if you don’t win a World medal each year, you could say it is a failure since that is what everything is judged by. But it can’t be that way, can it? I would think going by “perceived failures” lends itself to more coachable opportunities. 

JA: Absolutely, yeah. Success is a process. Like I said, it’s no one tournament or one performance. It is the process and the life that you live, that is success to me. Failures are just learning opportunities. Like the quote says, “You either win or you learn” (– Avinash Wandre). A lot of times if you win a tournament, you high five yourself but you don’t really reflect on that. But if you lose in the finals, or you lose first round, you go, What the heck just happened?, and you go back and analyze, make changes, and you grow. Or at least that’s what you should do. A lot of people just beat themselves and the next time they go out they try not to make a mistake and that’s how you make more mistakes. If you have that victim mindset or that negative mindset where you constantly focus on negatives and look at missing a goal as a failure, then you’re going to stop setting goals to protect yourself. That’s not the idea at all. You have to be willing to suffer humiliation to succeed. You have to put yourself out there, and guess what? You’re probably going to fail more than you win. But that’s how you become a champion.

5PM: Do people have the wrong idea about WCAP, that it’s like some closed-off area of US Greco that primarily keeps to itself?

JA: I’m not sure about others’ feelings. I haven’t had many long conversations with people on the perception of WCAP. I tell you though, there are always people from other teams in our room. So if you look at what I see every day, I see other guys from the OTC coming over, guys from the Air Force or Marines flying in and training with us, so from my lens, I see a lot of people in the room. That was actually a shock to me because in college, it’s your team only in practice and then when you go to a competition, you guard everything. You don’t even want to warm up in front of other people in college. High school, too, everyone else is the enemy.

But it’s weird, the Greco community in general, we have training camps and all the teams are in one room training with each other. And those are the same guys you’re going to compete against next weekend or in a month. Or you go overseas and train with all of those guys and then you go and compete against them five days later. So I think for me, that was kind of refreshing, that we could learn from each other and keep trying to make the United States better, which I like to see and I’ve seen that a lot.

On the other hand, the Army is judged by performance and sometimes it may seem like we may have to do certain things to improve, to win, and perform well. I don’t know how that comes across to other people, but we still have to focus on representing the Army well, so if someone might think that we’re selfish, that perception is an unintended consequence.

5PM: What do you do while at WCAP to kind of wind down, so to speak? 

JA: I just want to say for the record and to make sure everyone knows, I am the best WCAP chess and basketball player. On the WCAP wrestling team, no one else can hold a light to me in either chess or basketball and that has been proven over and over. Don’t let someone else say otherwise.

5PM: Basketball? I’m 5’4 and change, it’s not like you’re eight inches taller than I am. Are they playing with one arm? I don’t understand.

Jon Anderson: Nooooo. We do cross-training and stuff so we play basketball and sometimes it gets competitive. You’ve got Ellis Coleman in there talking smack and time after time, I have to beat him. Actually, I played a lot of basketball before I wrestled, I played on some teams and stuff like that. Believe it or not, I can grab rim. It’s not like I can get my whole hand over, I can get my fingertips over (laughs). But it’s funny, we have a chess board in the recovery room, I’ve had to beat Bruce (Robinson) a couple of times, Bruce is probably the next best although (Harry) Lester was pretty good, too, but he left.

5PM: Are these fast games or are these prolonged games where it can take an hour per move?

JA: No, they’re fast games but it’s for bragging rights and it gets pretty intense. But seriously, to be an officer in the Army, I’m humbled by being able to do what I do and represent soldiers who are fighting on the front lines every day, and there is so much sacrifice and teamwork that goes into this.

Jon Anderson, Army WCAP

Anderson in one of several memorable bouts with three-time World Team member Jordan Holm. (Photo: John Sachs)

5PM: To do what you do and how you do it must require a lot of support. Where do you draw that support from? 

When I first started getting into Greco I had people encourage me, You have to start an athlete page, people want to track what you’re doing. And I’ve always been the type of person who gives other people credit and at the minimum, acknowledges everyone’s part in my success. Everything that I have accomplished, I don’t look at as personal accomplishments, I look at them as team accomplishments.

So instead of creating a “Jon Anderson” page on Facebook, I created Team Anderson, and that is my faith, my family, fans, friends, a place where we can all share the journey together. At the heart of that is my wife, Molly and my sons, Mack and Teddy, they’re five and three years old. It’s a constant inspiration, their love and the price they pay when I’m out doing what I am doing, leading soldiers and chasing medals. That is a team accomplishment. If it wasn’t for all of those folks, the rest of my family, the leaders I’ve had in the military, friends –again, it’s a team. It’s not just me, it is just a reflection of all the people who have helped me. And I’m grateful and I am excited to compete. I love to wrestle. I want to make sure that’s clear. I don’t think I worked hard to earn this all by myself, because that’s not what it was. It is something I want to continue to embrace and focus on, the balance.

5PM: What has been the highlight of your Greco career thus far?

JA: The 2011 Armed Forces Championships, just because that was the first Greco tournament I won and that qualified me for the World Team Trials. My family was there, my wife, we had one kid at the time, and that was a big moment for us. The Olympic Trials is probably number one because that is when all of the hard work finally showed and was able to bear fruit with that tournament. It’s when I got my official orders for WCAP and all that, and it was the official change in direction for where we were going in the Army. That was huge.

The Pan Am Games, that was a big moment. It is more special now that I look back on it. My kids were able to watch on ESPN, they couldn’t make it out for that one. But just for the chance to hold the flag for the United States running around the mat, representing the hard work that everyone puts in. I was just a small representative of our nation, what we stand for, and how hard work pays off and to keep going for your goals. That was a big moment.

5PM: You undoubtedly carry many life lessons from your time as an officer in the Army. What are some lessons that you’ve learned from Greco since you’ve been in the sport?

Jon Anderson: Keep your elbows in (laughs). There are a couple. One is be humble, because when you see yourself having a little success and you start going down a certain path and you feel like you’re doing everything right, you can get big wake up calls. You’ll hit a certain opponent who just thrashes you or you’re exposed to some aspect of the sport you never thought of. I’m good at continually reinventing myself to see how I can master the fundamentals and tie them into my style. There are a lot of different Greco coaches. I have WCAP coaches, there are National Team coaches, you have other people who walk up to you and say stuff to you in between matches — all these people and it’s all good, but it’s all different. Some may have different approaches and different styles. Some say wrestle more like folkstyle, some say wrestle more like European Greco. But the truth about it is, there is no right answer. It’s what you do best and your understanding the sport.

Starting out, I never knew how important it was to have strong ribs. I was almost in tears for two months straight when I came out to Colorado doing par terre getting my ribs crushed. That is an example. And going overseas falling into a shark bait drill with five wrestlers and all the other people in the group are Olympic and World medalists, so that was a wake up call. You have these moments where it’s like, Wow, I have a lot to learn!

So be humble, be willing to learn, and don’t think you have all the right answers necessarily. I mean, be confident in what you do, but be open to evolve and grow. Greco has shown me technique matters but the fight and the heart matters, as well. For me, it’s combining the two, driving and pushing with intensity, but also falling back and setting up technique. The more I put that together, the better I become. That’s what Greco has taught me.

Follow Jon Anderson on Twitter and the Team Anderson Facebook page to keep up to date on his career and competitive schedule. 

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