By Penny Ray
When asked by a young kid to define what it means to be a champion, Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder said the amount of wins or accomplishments don’t matter.
“I know a lot of people who haven’t achieved the amount of accolades as others, but in my eyes they’re still extremely successful because of the way they carry themselves, and the way they think about the sport or whatever they’re doing,” Snyder said, adding that a true champion dedicates 100 percent of themselves to their goal. “Champions become the best person they can possibly be.”
Snyder, who competed in Rio de Janeiro this year and became the youngest Olympic wrestling champion in United States history, was one of several people who taught a group of nearly 100 kids the fundamentals of wrestling, as well as the fundamentals of life, at a weekend clinic held in Hedgepeth-Williams Elementary School.
Snyder said his goal at the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil was to be the best wrestler in the world, but his game plan was simply to have fun.
“There was never a moment when I was worried about losing because I was only thinking about executing the wrestling moves,” Snyder said. “I wrestle really well, and I feel like I’m at my best when I’m having fun.”
Snyder, a 20-year-old junior at Ohio State University, said his parents encouraged the boys in the family to participate in organized wrestling to release the aggression kids experience during adolescence. He said his wrestling training has been a positive influence in other aspects of his life as well.
“My brothers and I wrestled a lot in the basement,” Snyder said, adding that he’s never been in a fight with anyone other than relatives. “Wrestling has taught me to be consistent in all aspects of my life, to treat people nicely, to work hard and to value positive things. If you surround yourself with people who inspire you to do great things, believe in yourself and work toward a goal, you can get it done.”
Ohio State wrestling coach Tom Ryan echoed Snyder’s sentiments when he told the kids that true leaders exhibit key qualities:
Leaders embrace discomfort, they lead by example and they love and tell the truth, Ryan said.
The 2015 NCAA Coach of the Year said he hopes kids walk away from the weekend’s clinic understanding that choices have consequences, regardless of a person’s intent when making a decision.
“I want them to understand that you have to place yourself in the right environment and pursue positive goals,” Ryan said.
The goal of the two-day clinic was to raise awareness about the youth wrestling program in Trenton, which is free to join. But organizers of the event also wanted kids to understand how to be a scholar athlete, and how to be a good citizen who affects positive change.
Dr. Mark McLaughlin, a neurosurgeon and wrestling coach who was instrumental in convincing Coach Ryan to visit Trenton for the second year in a row, said he wants the capital city to become “a wrestling hotbed.”
“We estimate there’s almost 500 kids who don’t play a winter sport,” McLaughlin said. “But even if we just get one, that’ll make a difference. My dream is to build this up and actually have Olympians training in Trenton.”
The clinic was sponsored and organized by Trenton Youth Wrestling in collaboration with Beat the Streets, Wrestlers in Business and Capital City My Brother’s Keeper.