Photo: Calahan Cornelius, age 5, (putting in a half-nelson) and Maxwell Schmitz, 6,...
Wrestling helps these three deal with real-life issues
By Sandy Stevens
This teacher addressed her kindergarten charges at home on their computers.
Teacher: “Use your sense of sight to help you draw a picture of something in your house that you can see that we cannot see.”
Kid 1: “I’m going to draw my tiny kitten.”
Kid 2: “Can I draw my brother? You can’t see him because he’s in his room.”
Kid 3: “But I didn’t get a turn.”
Teacher: “Ok, go ahead.”
Kid 3: “My private parts! You guys can’t see it because it’s my private.”
Teacher (struggling not to laugh): “Oh dear, please do not draw a picture of your private.”
Kid 3: “What do you want me to draw then?”
Teacher: “Um, how about a cool toy from your room?”
Kid 3: “OK!”
Another crisis averted. And just another day in the life of Toccara Montgomery, the 2008 Olympian, two-time World silver medalist, two-time Junior World silver medalist, two-time Pan American titlist … and kindergarten teacher at Hazelwood School in the St. Louis suburbs.
Montgomery is just one of the successful collegiate and international wrestlers who are using the lessons of the sport in their careers off the mat.
“It makes 100 percent difference that I was a wrestler,” declared Montgomery, who graduated from Cumberlands in 2006 with a 29-0 dual record and a degree in elementary education, before earning a master’s degree in instructional leadership.
“People don’t necessarily think about the process that goes into wrestling. The discipline you get transfers over.
Named the FILA 2002 International Wrestler of the Year — the third American and first female to win that honor — Montgomery also won the first two college national championships ever held for women’s wrestling. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she is also the assistant coach at Ritenour High School.
“You have to be a couple steps ahead of your opponent — and ahead of the children,” she said. “So much of what I learned as a wrestler has helped me be successful.”
Dr. Airron Richardson, a two-time All-American at the University of Michigan, a member of the U.S. national team and a 2000 Olympic alternate at heavyweight, has been practicing emergency medicine since 2009.
He knew in 7th grade, when a black surgeon spoke to his class on Career Day, that he wanted to be a physician, Richardson said.
For him, that meant a B.A. in German from Michigan, M.D. and MBA degrees from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, a residency in emergency medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center and a fellowship in primary care sports medicine at Duke University.
“It was a long road,” Richardson acknowledged, “but it’s the delayed gratification that wrestling teaches you.”
His residency led to an understanding of the significant need for medical care on the South Side of Chicago. In 2018, he opened Premier Urgent Care and OCC-Health Center in Hyde Park, the first Black-owned comprehensive urgent care facility in Chicago and one of the few in the state.
“Each patient enhances your knowledge,” Richardson said. “There’s constant attention to detail and improvement, (comparable to) wrestling where you’re breaking down film.”
Richardson noted that medicine and wrestling are both stressful endeavors.
“If things don’t turn out well, people look at what you did wrong. In wrestling, you have no one to blame for your failure,” he said.
Ben Kjar’s wrestling success included becoming the first three-time state champion for Viewmont High School in Utah, the first NCAA Division I All-American for Utah Valley University and placing fourth in the 2004 Olympic Trials.
But when he completed competition and went to work in his father’s business, Kjar realized he was “a triangle trying to fit into a square hole.”
“It didn’t fulfill me,” he said of the work. “If you don’t have passion for what you’re doing, you’re not going to be the best.”
He lost that job in July 2016.
“Having been a wrestler allowed me to know when I got released that I could respond,” Kjar said. “If I had the perspective of a victor instead of a victim, that ‘L’ could stand for ‘learn.’ I saw this as a new beginning. I realized I’d have to decide to be the best.
“I invested in myself; I hired coaches in real estate,” he explained. “You do that in wrestling — go to camps, go to the top people.”
Since he founded and became the CEO of Kingdom Real Estate Group in Utah, Kjar has flipped more than 160 houses.
Born with Crouzon Syndrome, a genetic disorder that leads to abnormal patterns of growth in the skull, Kjar underwent multiple reconstructive facial surgeries as he was growing up, so in 2018, he also created Flip for a Faith.
“It’s to give the opportunity for surgeries and beyond and to allow the world to watch the transition and change the narrative of how people view others who are different,” he said.
“Wrestling helped me to know I could fall down, get up and be better. It helped me believe I could be training on my own, getting confidence to invest in myself.
“I’m used to stepping out on a mat myself and performing. It’s the same as an owner.”
Note: In the next issue of WIN, Sandy will spotlight others who are using the life lessons of wrestling in their chosen professions off the mat.
(Sandy Stevens is a long-time public-address announcer of national and international events and was named to the National Hall of Fame in 1998.)