by Kristian Stewart
High School Wrestling Coach
2x Freestyle All-American
4x Greco-Roman US Open All-American
Greco-Roman National Champion
April 10, 1976 — Born in Norfolk Va.
1977- So I’ve been told, it was a cold Ohio morning in the dead winter. The heat furnace was blasting a solid 80 degrees to fight off the rigid 5 below outside the walls of a 3rd floor apartment duplex. The large 3’x 3’ floor mounted vent had recently been worked on by a local HVAC mechanic. The mechanic had forgotten to bolt the vent down after his repairs. This made a perfect slide down to the basement level and the burning furnace. As my dad tore through every section of heat duct he found himself at the last section. He began to pray “God have your will with his life”. I was lodged at the elbow that enters the furnace. This would be the 1st scare of many for my poor parents. I became what one may call the accident prone sibling of four.
1982- By the age of 6 I had an emergency room rap sheet a mile long at the local E.R. As the youngest of 3 brothers I felt that I often had to prove I was as tough as my older brothers. Shortly after starting k-5 after school one day, I followed my neighbor up the stairs of a 3 story apartment building in Lewisburg Tn. I fell through a step that was broken and plummeted 2 ½ stories down. Two broken collar bones and 1 cracked neck later; I developed an infection in my spinal column. The infection puzzled doctors and left a very energetic boy paralyzed for nearly a year. Doctors notified my parents that it was possible that I may never walk again. One day in April near my birthday, my dad was kneeled at my hospital bed, I heard him pray “God have your will with his life”. Adversity became my driving factor, after recovering and learning to walk again, I gladly invited any challenge that came my way.
1986- 1st year playing midget football, man did I love it. Being half the size of everyone else made no difference. Little man with a big heart and a big hit, like most wrestlers, the little man factor became a driving force in my will to compete. Tell me I can’t do it, and if it took my last breath I would prove them wrong. Years pasted and by my junior year in high school, I had reached 114 pounds, 5 foot tall and bullet proof. By 1994 my high school in a rural town of North Carolina, had started a wrestling team. Wrestling sounded right up my alley so to speak. We had a volunteer coach who knew little to nothing about the sport but provided us an opportunity none the less. 8 guys would be the start and trial team for the little known sport in eastern NC. My 1st year I wrestled 119 pounds, no one mentioned that I could have lost two pounds to compete at 112 pound class. With the 1st year in the bag and a small amount of success with little coaching involved, I was hooked on wrestling. After tasting 11 victories my 1st year I was determined to make wrestling my sport. I began to search for knowledge about the sport; I read every book I could find on wrestling and technique, which now looking back sounds kind of funny. In the spring I found a wrestling club located about an hour north of my home. I remember my 1st practice like it was yesterday. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of a lifelong affair with the sport of wrestling. I began to dedicate myself, by practicing twice a day with the club. I started wrestling Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, competing every weekend somewhere in the country. I was like a sponge, soaking up every ounce of knowledge up that I could. I can remember my coach setting me up with an expedition match with the current Jr. National champion (Jeremy Hunter) just for experience. From that day on I had his picture on my mirror and I told myself daily that one day I would be a national champion. In my first year wrestling Freestyle and Greco I had achieved state champion status in both styles. Spring wrestling had made me a winter champion. My senior year I ended up on top in my district and region, competing at the High school state championships was a dream comes true. During the spring and summer of my senior year I continued a strong regiment of practicing and competing. I won both styles at the state championships and won both south east and western regionals. This success opened the doors for a tour team to Sweden and Finland. Success on the national stage helped gain the attention of several local colleges. I went on to wrestle at a division 2 university for the next four years. By the end of my freshman year I had gained All-American status and two herniated disc for good effort. I started to really focus on Greco-Roman wrestling at this point in my career. I placed 2nd in the nation in Greco and had goals to win a national title and compete at the world level. By my sophomore year I had completely focused on Greco and no longer competed in freestyle. Although Freestyle taught me so much about the sport and helped me be competitive in college. By my junior year I was a toped ranked wrestler at both universities and the senior division. In 1998 I placed 5th at U.S. Opens and 2nd once again at University Nationals. 1999 was my year to really breakout, with the pinnacle being University National Championships in Evanston Ill on April 9&10 of 1999. So it was destine that I would wrestle for the national title on my birth day. After banging my way back to the national finals match for the 3rd consecutive time, the pressure to win was unbearable. The matchup was a repeat from the previous year at 119lbs, but this year I was without my coach do to family problems so my Dad was at my corner. Michael Santos (Army) defeats Kristian Stewart (BYWC) (11–0) had been in my workout locker for a year as a reminder and motivator. Entering the 2nd of two periods I found myself down 11–2 with the fear of a National title eluding me once again. At that moment things began to slow down and I had a certain moment of clarity, my life and all its adversity begun to flood my mind. As quickly as It came it was gone, I refocused and started working for passivity and a chance to reverse lift. Passivity was awarded and so was an opportunity to score big. I made the reverse lift for 1 and hit the throw for 5 points. The match was not over, I glanced over at the clock as we stood up, the score showed 8–11 with 30 seconds remaining. Now pummeling and using a Russian, I had one move that I had drilled 1000 times that year. With the first sense of pressure I hit the throw, praying for 3 points, as my eyes closed and I visualized my finish like I had done so many times, I heard the buzzer. I looked up anxiously at the score clock hoping to be awarded 3 for 11–11 tie. As I watched the official ask for confirmation, I held my breath and time seem to stand still, the judge confirmed. I had scored big for 5, the score changed to 13–11. I had finally done it. As my heart began to swell and my hand was raised, I had to fight the flood of emotion that was coursing my veins. As I looked over to my corner I seen my dad kneeling at the chair, I knew exactly what he was praying “God have your will with his life”.
I continued to compete for the next few years. I trained among the best of the best at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I continued to do well at the national and international level. In 2000 I was at my peak and shooting for the U.S. Olympic team. The competition was fierce with great wrestlers at my weight like Brandon Paulson, Steve Mays, Lindsey Durlacher and Shawn Sheldon. I had been competing over the years, through college and USAW with two damaged disc at c6 & c7. I tended not to acknowledge the pain and discomfort but felt as if I could push through it. As a much older and wiser man now, I wish I had done differently. In the 3rd round of the 2000 U.S. Opens at Las Vegas, I matched up with Jeff Cervone. He was a seasoned wrestler and resident at OTC Colorado. I knew it would be a tough match and that the key to winning would be defending his vicious gut wrench. Early in the match I went passive and bad things were about to happen. Jeff gutted me and I defended aggressively with all my might. Close to the edge of the mat with seconds left to defend, I had a crippling jolt of pain through my rib cage and neck. I certainly would not let anyone know the level of pain that I was feeling, especially Mr. Cervone. Adversely, pretending not to be hurt and defending in parterre position are to significantly difficult task. Jeff continued to score and teched me early in the 2nd period. My injuries were severe and closed my final chapter of competing at the world level of Greco-Roman wrestling. Years later after coaching high school wresting, I had surgery that cleared up some of those injuries and allowed me to be competitive once again. Years later and far too old to regain my level of competition in wrestling I took up MMA. God has continued to bless my career as a coach with many wonderful student athletes. I have been able to be part of so many lives over the past 15 years of coaching. I still think about how different my life may have been without the sport of wrestling. I can’t imagine how things would have turned out if it was not for the many life lessons that wrestling has taught me.
Kristian Stewart is a high school wrestling coach and Greco-Roman National Champion. He was a division two college wrestler and a competed in both freestyle and greco-roman after college. He was a 2x Freestyle All-American and a 4x Greco Roman US Open All-American.
Originally published at wrestlingstories.org.