On Sunday, 2021 National Champion/U23 World Team member Spencer Woods (82 kg, Army/WCAP, 5PM #2) announced that he had signed on as an athlete ambassador for the Interior Grappling Academy, a prominent wrestling club from Alaska whose main focus is on age-group development .
The circumstances involved in the pairing are similar to the Illinois Regional Training Center‘s relationship with three other Army athletes (Max Nowry, 55 kg; Ellis Coleman; and Kamal Bey, 77 kg). IGA aims to assist Woods with funding concerns pertaining to overseas travel and related expenditures; in turn, Woods will look to lend a hand to IGA by holding clinics/camps back in his home state in addition to availing himself for various leadership responsibilities. That Woods — known inside of Greco as “The Alaskan Assassin” — hails from the same state is another obvious lynchpin. Branding may also play a role, as Woods will don a singlet that signifies his status as both a WCAP wrestler and IGA representative, which is important to note since the native Alaskan is currently one of the top upper-weights in the country.
“I’m going to wrestle overseas representing them and Army and, when I can do it, they will fly me out to Alaska so I can do training camps for the Greco athletes whom they are trying to build,” Woods said on Monday. “It is a very nice gig. I get to go home and teach kids how to wrestle. I like to do both of things.”
The Interior Grappling Academy has entered competitors across every age division, but it is in the youth sector where the outfit has recently made its biggest mark. Jeremy Bockert (63 kg, and son of IGA head Wesley) won the Fargo Junior National tournament this past July, a milestone achievement. IGA has also begun to assert themselves within the US from a developmental standpoint by participating in specialized Greco-Roman camps, as well as the the Ringers Showcase series in Wisconsin.
Such an arrangement provides Woods with an opportunity to give back to his home state and help grow the next generation of athletes, which on Monday appeared to encompass a big part of his motivation. “Whenever I decide to leave my shoes on the mat, I want to show them that they can do this, too. They will already have the path laid out for them with what they need to do. I want to be able to show them that it can happen, that it’s not that far off.”
Originally a Division I wrestler at the University of Maryland for Kerry McCoy, Woods transferred to Northern Michigan and became a full-time Greco-Roman athlete during the ’17-’18 season. Just over a year later, he was the US Open runner-up at 82 kilograms; later in ’19, Woods won his first Senior overseas gold and eventually qualified for the Olympic Trials by placing second at the Bill Farrell Memorial. This past year delivered his most success to date, with a tournament victory from the April Nationals followed by his making the U23 World Team in May. In September, Woods was also second to two-time Olympian Ben Provisor (82 kg, NYAC, 5PM #1) at the World Team Trials.
US Greco Roster for Sundsvall
A delegation of age-group athletes led by Combat WC founder Lucas Steldt will be heading to Sweden later this month in advance of the Sundsvall Open. As reported last week, several Americans competed in the same event two years ago with a pair of champs emerging, Payton Jacobson (72 kg, NYAC/NTS) and “Mr. Fantastic” Benji Peak (72 kg, Sunkist/NTS, 5PM #2). The tournament this year runs January 22-23, though streaming information is not available at this time.
The aforementioned Jeremy Bockert is on the roster along with Cael Kahle (67 kg, Ringers), and both upstarts will prepare for the trek by attending the age-group-friendly January Camp in Springs that begins this week. When the tournament in Sundsvall wraps, the athletes will stay put for a joint international training camp.
“The past two years of international travel have been very hard and stressful,” Steldt said. “But it is possible and we are getting it done. International travel is such a key ingredient in the training methodology. Beyond the sport there is a cultural life that must be experienced. There are relationships that must be fostered. These two things are overlooked by too many who just seek technical knowledge and competitive experience. The best actors live the life of the role they are preparing for. I completely believe in the same method for our athletes. We must immerse ourselves in the culture of what it is we are trying to understand and conquer.”
One area Steldt wants to emphasize is the effort required. Foreign training has a habit of providing moments of unusual duress for those new to the endeavor. So while cultural experience is important to up-and-comers, the two-time Cadet World coach insists that, ultimately, it is about entering the fray with a dedicated attitude. “Sundsvall is no vacation,” assured Steldt. “It is strategic going by the time of year, and type of competition and training. We are going to Sundsvall for a very specific reason. Every tour we plan has its place within our method. Later in the year we will go to more Eastern Bloc countries as we close in on the World Team Trials and World Championships. Make no mistake, this is a job.”
2021 Sundsvall Open
January 22-23 — Sundsvall, SWE
TEAM USA Roster
45 kg: Haakon Peterson (Seabolt)
55 kg: Reid Spurley (Seabolt)
63 kg: Jeremy Bockert (IGA)
63 kg: Gunnar Hamre (Combat WC)
63 kg: Colton Parduhn (IGA)
67 kg: Cael Kahle (Ringers)
72 kg: Aiden Squier (Scorpion)
87 kg: Sean Michel (IGA)
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