For a little more than two years, John Stefanowicz pondered his career and future as a wrestler.
First things first, though.
“I’m a Marine first and a wrestler second,” said Stefanowicz, who earlier this year was granted a leave from active duty and Thursday continued his astonishing rise within the ranks by winning the 82 kg Grego-Roman title at the Dave Schultz Memorial at the Olympic Training Center. “That time off fueled my fire. I knew I wasn’t done. Coming back, I’m not holding anything back, and I’m enjoying the sport for what it is.”
Stefanowicz was one of three Americans to claim titles in second-day action of the tournament, which is marking its 20th event. Earlier, Erin Clodgo won by fall over fellow American Tatum Sparks in the women’s 72 kg freestyle final. Hayden Zillmer defeated 2012 Olympian Se-Yoel Lee of Korea to win the Greco-Roman title at 97 kg.
Stefanowicz defeated Dillon Cowan, a member of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, by a 10-2 margin to claim his first Schultz title.
The victory came about 11 months after his return to full-time wrestling – he joined the circuit in 2011 after becoming a Marine two years earlier – and even he’s amazed at his progress.
In February at the previous Schultz Memorial, he lost to the eventual bronze medalist.
“Coming back is very difficult, something that’s hard for people to understand,” Stefanowicz said. “I approach things 110 percent differently than how I used to and I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m married now. I have a son and have another on the way next month. Being able to live and fight and train for something and see the potential you have, it’s mind boggling. Sometimes, I’m blown away at myself.”
While Stefanowicz finally stood atop the podium at the Schultz, Ravaughn Perkins had his sights set on a second event title this calendar year and third in a row.
But Perkins had few answers against 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2013 world champion Hyeon-Woo Kim of Korea, suffering an 8-0 tech fall in the 77 kg final.
“This was a great experience,” said Perkins, an OTC resident and 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials champion. “It was my first time wrestling against an Olympic champion. It was good. I felt like I put up an all right fight, but looking back, I know I could have done more. It was good being able to wrestle him. Hopefully I can wrestle him in the future. It’ll be a different story.”