The Maverick’s Story: Ryan Hope Focuses On Goals In a Different Way

Ryan Hope, USA Greco Roman wrestling, 85 kg
Photo: Anne Sachs

Approach is everything. The various ways athletes run towards perceived adversity or reconcile inevitable setbacks says a lot about them, in more ways than one. Attitudes off the mat are not required to mirror what happens on it, but in many cases it does help you get a sense of what acts as the driving forces. You notice this especially with American wrestlers. Motivational angles vary as much as the swells off the Atlantic coastline. Are there stinging losses still hovering in the background? Injuries which never fail to disrupt progress, making them just one more obstacle in a parade of many to overcome? Measurements of success skewed by crooked yardsticks? The pages laugh with invisible ink. 

These questions are thrown under a microscope when pertaining to US Greco Roman wrestlers. A tight-knit community in an otherwise very large sport makes it easy for everyone to examine each other. So just imagine being Ryan Hope. The 26-year old twin brother of fellow USA Greco standout Corey Hope, Ryan is eager to leap onto the next level, whatever it takes and wherever it may be. But in order to do so, some tough decisions had to be made, the kind where those aforementioned measurements of success and improvement were called upon to do battle with confusion and disagreement. Not everyone gets it, but Mr. Hope is fine with that. For now. 

In a little over a week, Ryan Hope is going to enter into the 2016 Greco Roman US Nationals in Las Vegas. It’s not a tournament he absolutely needs to compete in but at the same time, he demands his attendance. And he wants it to mean something. All of these competitive moments count, after all. Even more so when you’ve placed a bet on your future despite the dealer’s best recommendation to double down. That’s what makes the journey unique and Hope fully comprehends the stakes. No one is asking you to take a maverick’s point of view, just respect the process involved. Hope is but a man. A Christian, a brother, a wrestler. And he’s determined to figure it all out on his terms. 

5PM Interview with Ryan Hope

5PM: Do twins grow up with their own language or custom, secret communication skills?

Ryan Hope: I would say Corey and I have a certain wavelength that we communicate on. With that being said, if I were to get punched in the face he’s not going to feel it all the way out in Colorado. However, I can go weeks without talking to Corey and then see him or talk to him, and it would be like I just talked to him an hour ago. But if I go two days or a week without talking to my mom and then I do talk to her, it’s like, What the hell happened? I’ve been gone for a month. So I think twins have a certain wavelength they relate and communicate on that allows the luxury to kind of always know how the other one is doing without having to actually talk to them. If that even makes sense, but that’s how it makes sense to me.

5PM: Was there a natural rivalry between you and Corey?

RH: Oh yeah (laughs). For sure. There was always a natural rivalry and I think it was healthy. It helped us in so many ways, but we for sure had a natural rivalry. I was just sitting on a plane with someone today and he tried to move my arm off the arm-rest and I kind of gave him a look and nudged his elbow off the arm-rest, and I remember how Corey and I used to fight each other over arm-rests for hours. We wouldn’t sacrifice position for hours until we both had to leave or something because the first one to break was like, the inferior twin (laughs).

There was always a rivalry. Who could eat the spiciest food? Who could eat the most this or that? Who could eat a worm faster?  It didn’t help that we had a brother who was 15 months older and fed into it. Oh, who could run up the hill faster? Who could jump off this rock into the lake? So there was always this natural-born rivalry but our older brother put gasoline all over the flames.

5PM: Yeah I get it, but I don’t get it. I have two brothers, but there has to be a difference when you shared the same womb-space.

RH: Yeah. I say there was a natural-born rivalry, but the thing is with twins is that yes, there is that rivalry at a different level, but there is also a care for one another on a different level, also. If anyone even had the thought of saying or doing something to Corey, you could sure as hell believe I would be ready to murder that person without even thinking about it as being wrong. I wouldn’t act before I thought. If it was my other brother, I would probably think before I acted (laughs). That’s the difference between a brother and a twin brother.

5PM: When it comes to drilling techniques, do you go to both sides of the body or do you stick with a strong side, a preferred side?

RH: Two answers. I do drill both sides of the body. Since I go into practice to learn, both sides of the body are obviously important to me. But also, in contrary, it’s whatever my body feels at the moment. If I’m drilling something to the left side and I’m moving my feet and creating an opening and all the sudden I’m on the other side, I say, Okay, let’s hit it here. I try not to think through things and instead, put myself in places to cause reactions or react myself. It’s a hard question for me to be like, Oh, I drill both sides of the body. It’s whatever my body does because I trust my body.

5PM: Okay, so you understand the question, though. There are some athletes who do everything on one side. I know that’s the truth. 

RH: Right, yeah. If I had to answer the question, I do drill to both sides. I have a dominant side but I drill to both sides.

5PM: What are the main differences you have noticed between training with foreigners and training with Americans?

RH: When training with foreigners, there is a more “relaxed patience” type of training. They don’t have a very “brawl mentality.” They work their openings and they like to explode, so I think that gives them the ability to be more patient. And obviously they train the technical aspect, the situational aspect of wrestling more than the Americans do. I feel that the Americans train wrestling as a whole. We like to be in each other’s faces, we like to push the pace physically and mentally, and I don’t think that leaves as much room for the technical aspect as it does for the foreigners. Technical focus.

5PM: Give me an example of “technical focus.”

RH: Well, we’ve been to US camps before and we’ll hit a camp and spend a lot of time just kind of wrestling each other live. If you have a week-long camp, I’d say we probably bring it together two or three times to talk about a technique or position. But the rest of the time we’re just kind of wrestling live or drilling, but more wrestling live. You’re in a situation until someone scores or breaks away, but then you continue to wrestle without going back to that situation.

And to me that is just technical focus. Foreigners go to a situation and if someone scores or breaks position or connection, you go back to that same situation whether it’s the same person or the other person. You may not cover technique as a group, but coaches are there covering technique and they want you to slow down, they want you to absorb the technique and let your wrestling roots grow and the understanding of it, rather than, Let’s drill and wrestle live. Instead, it’s, Let’s drill and wrestle situations, but we’ll continue to hit the situations and we’ll do some live at the end. Where I think in the US, I think we do “situations” like I talked about earlier. We’ll wrestle three matches or two ten-minute blocks, or four-minute blocks, or six-minute blocks, instead of focusing on the situation and applying it in one match.

5PM: Was leaving the OTC for Cliff Keen a hard decision?

Ryan Hope: There is a plan, method, and a direction that myself and my teammates at Cliff Keen all believe and buy into, which is a lethal dynamic. I think we train harder than anyone else, but it’s very calculated and thought out so that we are meant to succeed and train with minimal risk of injury. And lack of injury means more consistent training and consistency overtime is king.

5PM: Leaving what is pretty much the epicenter for Greco Roman in this country had to have resulted in some degree of push-back, no?

RH: Yeah. I mean, I had people who thought it was a joke and they laughed or questioned it highly. I myself believed in the program and people I talked with, family, friends, and my girlfriend really believed in it. After spending time back at the OTC for the World Team camp, I was definitely met with a lot of backlash. I had one person who reassured me and I love the guy tremendously, but this sets him apart from everyone else in my heart and that is Robby Smith. Robby came up to me and said, “Hey, you have to do what is best for yourself. When you leave here after this camp, I don’t want you to ever doubt what you’re doing. The only way it’s going to work for you is if you do it 100%.” He then went on to say, “I think you’re making a great move and I believe you’re a smart enough guy to make the right choices. You have to believe in yourself 100% and I believe in you 100%.”

Robby was one of less than three guys, I’d say, from the wrestling community at the OTC who supported me in that aspect. Because I think everyone else for the most part was either judgmental or disagreed with me, thought it was a joke, or something like that. Robby, whether he believed it or not, actually made me feel like he cared and knew what I was stepping into.

Ryan Hope at the 2016 US Olympic Trials

Ryan Hope (left) going against Jon Anderson at the 2016 US Olympic Trials. (Photo: John Sachs)

5PM: Is there such a thing as momentum? You came back from Finland following a bronze at a tough tournament and now you have the Nationals in two weeks. Do you carry things over from performance to performance or is every event a fresh start?

RH: Every event is always a fresh start, whether you carry the momentum is up to you.

5PM: Elaborate on that, because you would think if a guy has been on a good run lately and there are more events coming soon, he might be operating with some momentum. 

RH: Every tournament is fresh because anything can happen and it doesn’t matter if you’re coming in hot or off a low. Every tournament is a fresh start for everyone because you can change your mentality, you can change your standing at the start of every event. You can end a tournament a completely different guy with a different mentality, with a different style. Whatever unfolds for you. I do believe in momentum, but I think in order for momentum to be carried over you have to nurture it correctly. And if you don’t nurture it, momentum might be in your favor for an extent, but I don’t think it will be in your favor as well as it could be. You start out fresh but as long as you find momentum and nurture it, you can carry it with you to the next tournament and there on forth.

5PM: Do you isolate goals into short and long-term as things you’d like to achieve competitively? Or are there microcosms, with long and short-term goals you try to reach in practice? Do you have say, a wide windshield and a narrow rear-view mirror? 

Ryan Hope: Obviously I have goals. I have short and long-term goals, I have goals for this practice or that practice. But goals for me in the practice room are a reflection of improvement. And to me, improvement only comes from failing at something and attempting something. Like I’ve said before, I don’t go into practice to “win” practice. I don’t get a medal during practice, it doesn’t mean anything to me. I have a short-term memory when it comes to training. I like to function that way. So when I go into practice, it’s about improvement. It’s to improve a certain technique, let’s say, and and the only way I can improve a technique is by attempting it. Attempting it means you’re going to fail. The more successes I have compared to failures in practice means goals are being met and improvements are being made. That’s how I measure improvement.

Short-term goals for me are very easily forgotten about just because I look at improvement over the grand scheme of things. And I obviously set my mind to focus on certain things. My short-term goals are more like focuses, and I have my long-term goals. I also have training goals that I set for the weight room. People schedule a program and say, “You need to hit that today” and I look at it and go, Well, then that’s my goal for today because I’ve never done that before and I need to do that. But I’m also set up for failure there, too. I just think that when it comes to short-term goals, they are more like focuses and my long-term goals are achievements to me.

5PM: How has folkstyle influenced, whether good or bad, your career, even going back to when you started at Northern Michigan? 

RH: Well, wrestling is wrestling and folkstyle gave me the opportunity to meet “Lady Greco” and fall in love with her. So obviously, I have folkstyle to thank for that. Folkstyle gives me the opportunity to understand different techniques. For instance, foreigners don’t know what a cross-face to a butcher is, or whatever people call it, a barbwire or whatever. In desperate situations I can do that. I can hit heel tap or cross-face and score points from it. I have folkstyle to thank for that. But aside from small tricky moves or positional things that change the aspect of the sport, I really don’t think folkstyle has a correlation to Greco or even freestyle, for that matter. I think folkstyle kind of sets us back when it comes to the World level.

I appreciate the college season more now because I have college teammates at Cliff Keen, or Michigan guys who compete for Michigan. I love those guys and enjoy watching them compete. But I just think that folkstyle leaves so much of a wake when it comes to wrestling in general for America on the World level. I think folkstyle is good for what it is used for (here), to gain popularity and put names out there for parents to watch and things, and to benefit schools. But do I think college wrestling would be more entertaining if it was freestyle or a mix of Greco and freestyle? Yeah, I think it would be. It’s like the standard system of measurement versus the metric system. The United States has standard and the rest of world has metric. We’re stuck in our ways and that’s what folkstyle means, we’re stuck in our ways. It would be hard to turn back now and make high school and college freestyle and Greco, or a mix of both. So we’re stuck in the standard system I think.

5PM: Yeah, but doesn’t that put more of a premium on finding ways to make folkstyle somehow, some way, work for Greco in this country? You hear it a lot, “We’ve got to get rid of folkstyle”, but if people are willing to concede that folkstyle isn’t going anywhere, doesn’t it seem like there should be a more concerted effort towards finding different mechanisms for it to work for Greco Roman competition in this country? 

RH: Sure, that sounds great, but do you know how to do it? Because I certainly don’t. I think there’s a way to get guys affiliated with the positions more. Coaches cover so much about leg attacks and focusing on top and stuff like that. But Greco is more than just throws and arm-drags, and I’m not ripping on the arm-drag because I love the arm-drag. There is so much of a different control in understanding the tie-up. When I came back from Northern after spending a year in that room, there were guys in my high school who were very good nationally and at the state level I used to have close matches with as a junior or senior. When I came back, they couldn’t even light a candle near me. They couldn’t stand the wind force that I brought because I knew how to move the body differently. How to control a tie-up differently changed the game completely.

And it still happens when I wrestle every once in awhile with the freestyle college guys. There are guys I can hang with solely because I can hand-fight and control position better than they do. They are worlds better at defending shots or taking shots on me than I really am, but I can keep things interesting because I control the body better than they do. That is part of the reason I think Cliff Keen had an interest in me after awhile, because I brought an opportunity for the freestyle guys to learn. But it also gives me a very unique partner because if I am wrestling Greco with freestyle guys and they are shooting double legs on me, then I better not be high-dived ever. Because they are wrestling freestyle or “dirty Greco” or something like that and they are able to shoot doubles on me. If I can defend their double legs, then I sure as hell better be able to defend any high-dive that comes my way.

So there is a beneficial crossover there, but I think I don’t know how to make folkstyle compliment Greco. And I hate saying “compliment” Greco; I should say, I think having folkstyle compliment freestyle and Greco because people think the correlation between Greco and folkstyle is a huge, insurmountable difference and they believe that freestyle and folkstyle are the same animal, but they’re really not.  There are so many things taught in folkstyle that I don’t think correlate well with freestyle. And I think the difference between Greco and folkstyle is obviously larger, but I don’t think they are too far behind each other in terms of how folkstyle can hurt international wrestling.

Ryan Hope, 2016 Dave Schultz Memorial

Hope shortly after securing his bronze medal at the 2016 Dave Schultz Memorial International. (Photo: Anne Sachs)

5PM: Describe your mindset or your emotions on the day of a competition. 

RH: (Laughs) I love this question only because I think it freaks people out when I answer it. I do get nervous but I have a lot of great teammates and a lot of great supporters who have helped me change my mindset going into match day, turning my nervousness into excitement. Because let’s face it: I love the sport, I love wrestling, and I love competing. Why let it stress me out or get me nervous when I should be embracing it for the excitement of it? I really try to stay relaxed and open and goofy.

I don’t really listen to music right when I warm up. I usually listen to music between matches for a period of time to center myself in a relaxed mode and not to get ahead of myself. Or to recover from a loss. I’ll listen to music while I’m eating or getting my bag ready to go. But I don’t listen to typical music. You know, I think people listen to their 80’s bands, heavy metal, rap, or something like that. I’m more of a Bonnie Tyler or Madonna type guy.

5PM: Oh no, I get that, that way you don’t have an adrenaline dump or whatever, right? Am I close with that?

Ryan Hope: Yes. Even better, the whole time Travis Rice, Dalton Roberts and myself were in Finland, I’m pretty sure we listened to only Celine Dion, Bonnie Tyler, Pat Benatar, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, and Madonna the entire time we were there. Whether we were sitting in the room hanging out or anything like that, those ladies were our go-to (laughs).

When were wrestling at the Haavisto, I was wrestling a Swede and the first period break happened. We were just sitting in the corner and I was like, Alright, I gotta figure out how to open this guy up. Travis and Dalton were saying, “Okay, just keep moving your feet, keep doing what you’re doing”, and all of the sudden Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero” came on. We were obsessed with that song during camp and that song came on during the 30 seconds. I looked at them like, I need a hero, and I just started singing the song a little bit. I went back out there, started putting points together, and won the match. But yeah, that’s my fuel, songs like that. Because they keep me relaxed, goofy, and that’s where my best competing happens, when I’m goofing around and relaxed. When I’m singing along, it’s like a Weird Al-type version, it might not be the real words. It’s just whatever noise or words come to mouth. I’ll sing it to myself or in my head and it keeps me relaxed and in my best competitive state of mind.

5PM: There were a lot of ways that question could have went, I didn’t see that as one of them. 

RH: People ask me that question all the time, coaches or whomever ask, “What do you listen to on match day?” I’m just like, Pat Benatar, Madonna, Elton John sometimes…

5PM: If someone were to put you in charge of a program, any program, what would be the three main objectives you approach the job with?

RH: One would be improving athleticism. Because obviously, with improving athleticism your capacity increases. Teaching a ten-year old to handspring is surmountable for their confidence and confidence is extremely important, in any sport, but especially our sport. The next thing I would say is control. Understanding control and positions I guess would be tied in there you could say. Rope climb. Pull-ups and the rope climb are near and dear to my heart. I think with those three things you build an understanding of the sport, a concept, and a base of conditioning, strength, and confidence that go an extremely long way. Then a child takes that over in their own direction to understand the sport at 14, 15, 16 years old. They understand now that they have a base and a direction, and they can take the sport for themselves.

It’s funny I just said “base.” We kind of run base wrestling like that, Cliff Keen, through Andy Hrovat and Jake Herbert’s program we teach base wrestling throughout the Michigan area all the time. It’s said somewhere else in a different way, but coming to practice ready to learn. Leave practice better than the way you came in and help somebody else do the same. Those are their three pledges and I said it the same way but in a different form, I guess.

5PM: What have been your places to visit and why?

RH: I would have to say domestically, it would be Iowa just because of Carver-Hawkeye. Don’t take me for a huge college wrestling fan, but Carver-Hawkeye is such a special place to compete and everything. New York, it’s the world’s capital. Internationally, I fell in love with Armenia, the culture, the people, and the wrestling history behind it. They take wrestling as a national sport like we take football. I got to see history in Germany. I think Finland is a beautiful country. If I had to name one, Armenia would be my favorite international destination just because I think there is so much history. I’m a Christian man and Armenia was the first country to accept Christianity as their national faith, so there’s just great amounts of history in that section. Wrestling and Christianity, two huge things that are in my life are plentiful there.

5PM: What attracted you to Greco in the first place?

Ryan Hope: There was always a springtime wrestling thing that covered freestyle and Greco. I think Greco was always the red-headed child when it came to those practices. And I say it only because my coaches didn’t know a lot about freestyle or Greco but they did the best they could. Mark Hahn was a great coach and he did the best he could and he just wanted his wrestlers to be familiar with freestyle and Greco because he believed it made us better wrestlers all-around. But I didn’t really get a taste of Greco until Joe Williams, believe it or not, who was my first Greco coach. I was going to him for freestyle and folkstyle-type stuff and Greco state was that week. He goes, “We’re going to focus Greco for a weeks now” and he was the first person to teach me an arm throw and taught me some basics about Greco. I wrestled in the Greco state tournament and I won like, one match maybe. I sucked at Greco state but I fell in love with it.  After that I sought out other guys who specialized in Greco like Jacob Curby, John Paun, Bryan Medlin, Mike Powell, and Jake Harrell. Those guys were Illinois’ Greco scene and when I came around it was early on in the birth of Illinois Greco. And since then, I think they’ve had a lot of influence on me and furthered me along to push forward in the sport. And like I said, once I met Lady Greco and I never wanted to turn back.

Follow Ryan Hope on Twitter to keep up to date on his career and competitive schedule. 

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