Motivational speaker Jensen credits wrestling for helping him regain his sobriety and life

Updated: December 21, 2023

Photo: Traveling around the country on his bus, Richard Jensen gives motivational speeches on how this former wrestler overcame alcoholism, jail time and homelessness with the help of his favorite sport.

By Tristan Warner

When Richard Jensen found himself lying on the floor of a homeless shelter at the age of 34, he never imagined some day he would be traveling the country in a tour bus as a motivational speaker inspiring thousands of people by sharing his story of triumph and perseverance. 

The grips of addiction led him to jail, prison and homelessness and the Oregon native found himself at rock bottom. 

Jensen remembers a time in which finding the light at the end of the tunnel seemed impossible.

But then, lying on that cold, lonely floor, a shell of the man and father he always intended to be, he also remembered a time when he felt a sense of belonging, had an identity, and above all else, had a purpose.

This story appeared in the December issue of WIN Magazine. Click on the cover or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe.

“I had a lot of hyperactivity as a kid, so one of the local elementary coaches encouraged my mom to sign me up for wrestling,” Jensen recalled. “I quickly found myself falling in love with the sport. It gave me something to be a part of, and the value wrestling brought to my life stuck with me forever.”

A self-proclaimed “.500 wrestler at best,” Jensen knew the wins he was accumulating by participating in the sport were more intrinsic than anything else. 

His mom loved watching him compete. Win, lose, or draw, her favorite thing to do was watch her son wrestle, and that was something special for the two of them to share. 

The sport taught him discipline and toughness, two values that would greatly impact him later in life, though he did not know it at the time. 

And, providing a sense of identity and belonging, wrestling under high school coach H.D. Weddel impacted Jensen’s life and story immeasurably. 

“We had five or six Division I-caliber wrestlers on that team and I was not one of them, but Coach Weddel treated me the exact same as everyone else,” Jensen remembers. “I needed wrestling more than wrestling needed me. But, he created an inclusive culture where I felt I belonged, and it really stuck with me. It reshaped my life.”

So, 16 years after his high school wrestling career ended, Jensen picked himself up and decided to make a change. 

That change involved a return to the wrestling mats, no matter how far-fetched it may have seemed at the time. 

“I decided to make a positive change and get away from drugs and alcohol because I wanted to be the father that I dreamed of,” Jensen said. “Within a few years of sobriety, I decided I wanted to get back on the mat because I remembered what kind of value it brought to me.”

“I used wrestling to be the vehicle to win my life back. It didn’t matter if I ever won a match or not. I was just trying to be the athlete, coach, and mentor I always dreamed of being.”

So, at the age of 37, Jensen jumped at the opportunity to enroll at Clackamas Community College and join the wrestling team. He saw it as potentially his one-and-only chance to get an education and be a part of something positive again.

Three years sober, Richard Jensen got one last chance to wrestle in college at Oregon’s Clackamas CC in 2006-07.

“A 37-year-old trying to make a comeback in college wrestling is not your everyday story,” he chuckled. “When I stepped in the wrestling room with all that baggage, the wrestling community took me in with open arms, though.”

Sober three years by that time and on the straight and narrow, Jensen was productive and was well on his way to conquering his past demons, but his on-the-mat prowess was lacking.

He recalled only winning one match that first year back, which is when Jensen decided to elevate his focus even one step further. 

“I rented a garage and trained that entire summer completely by myself. I came back in the fall in the best shape of my life and had lost 15 pounds. I went from being last in the team sprints to first. I knew I didn’t have the same athleticism as these young kids, but I knew I could live the lifestyle to be in the best condition.”

“It took mental fortitude and strength because my body was hurting physically after a war with drugs and a bad lifestyle, but there was nothing these athletes could do to me that could be worse than what I had done to myself over the years. Nobody was going to break me down to quit.”

Jensen produced a winning record that season, qualified for the junior college nationals and even won a match at the tournament at the age of 38. 

Then, shortly thereafter, he was approached at a wrestling practice by Steve Morris, who educated him on the existence of the Masters wrestling circuit for competitors over the age of 35. 

Jensen immediately shifted his focus and had new wrestling goals in mind. 

He trained and competed extensively over the next 10 years and eventually captured a Masters national championship “stop sign” before retiring from competition in 2016. 

“Looking back, wrestling was the key decision in my life,” Jensen reflected. “Addiction was so consuming; it was like a full-time job. I needed something positive to focus and fixate on.”

“Now I’ve been sober for 20 years and my wife has serious health issues, but the last thing I would ever want to do is check out and have a drink. I want to be present for her. I am now also accountable for all those thousands of kids I’ve told my story to because I have opened my heart up to the world with my story and my mission. It is bigger than wrestling.”

(For more information on Jensen’s story as well as the corporate leadership events, school assemblies and speaking engagements he provides, visit