Janicki named WIN’s 2024 Journalist of the Year; hopes his photos inspire young wrestlers

Photo: An engineer by trade, Sam Janicki turned his love of photography and wrestling into a passion where he drives countless miles to cover many national college and high school events. (Justin Hoch photo)

By Mike Finn

Sam Janicki did a lot more than earn an engineering degree from Michigan when he left his native Denver, Colo., several years ago.

He got a chance to continue his love affair with wrestling … because Janicki also has a photographic eye for the sport.

“I’ve been in wrestling since middle school and high school and I competed on Michigan’s club team,” said Janicki, a 2013 graduate from the Big Ten school. “During that time (in Ann Arbor), I knew I wanted to do more and I always liked photos. So, I started taking photos at the varsity meets here. And then it just grew and grew and grew. It became my way to give back to the sport as both wrestling and photography has been my passion.”

That love affair with both is also a big reason Janicki has been named WIN Magazine’s 2024 Journalist of the Year.

“WIN is extremely excited to award Sam our 2024 Journalist of the Year Award,” said WIN Publisher Bryan Van Kley. “Like many people out there who take photographs of the sport or cover it in other ways, it’s clear Sam is passionate about wrestling and does it because he loves it. He’s at numerous events and WIN has published his photos for years. 

“You can tell by the quality of his photos, he’s a professional and this year’s choice for Journalist of the Year was an easy one when considering how much he’s promoted the sport over the years through his photos.”

While much of his photographic work does feature the Wolverines, Janicki (who continues to live in Ann Arbor, where he works full-time as an engineer for an automobile company in Ann Arbor) also averages over 15,000 miles a year driving all over the country to cover the biggest college, high school and international wrestling events. 

“I’ve learned to drive overnight to events,” said Janicki, recalling this year’s trip to cover the Big Tens at Maryland in March. “I get off work at 5 p.m., on a Friday, get in my car and drive halfway to Maryland, take a little nap then drive the rest of the morning. Once the tournament is over, I post photos on-line really quick, then get in the car and drive back.”

Janicki did a similar trip the following two weeks when he covered the NCAA Division II Championships in Wichita, Kan., and the Division I Championships in Kansas City.

All one has to do is go to sjanickiphoto.com to see all the national events that Janicki has shot over the past eight years. And much of his work has been showcased in the media, including WIN Magazine.

“At every event that I go to, I strive to get the best possible photographs and then I go home and edit every single photo that you see on this site,” he said, noting the volume of images he takes. “I do have trouble cutting down on the number of photos I put on here. I love them all so much to just leave them laying on a hard drive. I usually just say to myself that it only takes just one other person to enjoy it for it to be worth while to put it on here (his website).”

Janicki said one reason for his passion for photography stems from his love of history.

“I like picking up a camera and documenting what I’m doing and enjoying life,” said Janicki. “I remember going on family vacations and one of the big things for me to do is take photos.”

Janicki also credits photography for helping him fall in love with wrestling.

“Mainly from seeing photos, I thought wrestling was a cool sport,” he said. “Now I like to think that my photos will get some other kid to try it out and maybe become someone great. When you get new people involved in our sport, hopefully they will become great wrestlers and great people at the same time.”

Janicki also believes he knows what makes a good wrestling photo.

“Action and reaction and catching the face,” he said. “I like the emotions that come from those moments. Wrestling has a bit of everything, the highs and the lows. It helps I went through it as a wrestler.

“I was never an amazing wrestler and sometimes people live through photos. I know if I could go back in time, from what I’ve seen as a photographer, I would have tried to be a better wrestler.”

While Janicki was not good enough to wrestle on a college varsity team, he did enjoy his time on Michigan’s club team … and today also serves as the coach of that student-run group.

And because of his work as a photographer, many of those younger wrestlers have seen how big this part-time, unpaid job has become.

“Once they see those photos all over the place, they say, ‘So you are Sam Janicki. Your photos are everywhere,’” he said. “It’s kind of funny what this has become.”

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