Wrestler's championship dream endures long road to Denmark
August 3, 2009
By Tim Hipps
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Spc. Faruk Sahin probably will represent more groups than any Team USA wrestler when he steps onto the mat at the 2009 World Wrestling Championships, scheduled for Sept. 21-27 in Herning, Denmark.
Along with the United States, where Sahin attained citizenship in 2004, he will represent the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, based at Fort Carson, Colo.
A native of Ankara, Turkey, he will wrestle with skills developed as a two-time Turkish junior national champion before moving to Colorado Springs, Colo.
A former college professor, he will represent educators worldwide.
After serving a two-year suspension from USA Wrestling for testing positive for a banned stimulant after winning his weight class at the 2004 U.S. National Wrestling Championships, Sahin will represent athletes who have overcome punishment from the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
After undergoing back-to-back surgeries to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and his thumb, Sahin will represent comeback athletes of another variety.
Even more personally significant than representing his cultural heritage, Sahin will wrestle for his 5-month-old son. And, quite naturally, Sahin, 33, will seek to fulfill his dream of winning a world championship.
"I am so happy just winning here at Nationals," he said after defeating defending national champion Mark Rial of Gator Wrestling Club to win the 145.5-pound Greco division of the 2009 U.S. National Wrestling Championships on April 10, in Las Vegas, Nev. "It's all about continuing to dream. I'm following my dream and I love it.
"My dream was to go to Denmark."
Sahin said leaving his newborn son, Akif Nelson Sahin, at home was the toughest part of national championships week. After getting his hand raised to signify him a champion, Sahin pulled a tiny bootie from his singlet and made a rocking-the-baby gesture to the crowd at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
"At the airport, I said, 'Son, I know I cannot take you with me, but I'm taking your sock,'" Sahin explained. "I just grabbed it because for the last 10 days I've being doing a lot of changing the diaper and taking care of him, so I put his sock inside my singlet."
Had his wife, Amanda, not urged him to go, Sahin said he might have bypassed the trip.
"I told him, 'Son, I'm going to bring you a medal. Don't worry - you'll be the son of a champion.'"
Sahin punched his ticket to Herning on May 31, by manhandling Rial in two straight matches of their best-of-three series at the 2009 USA Wrestling World Team Trials in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
"USA!" Sahin exclaimed as he was introduced to reporters inside the Mid-America Center. "I've been in the finals how many times I don't know, but I've never made the world team or an Olympic team. This is a good start. I'm still recovering from two injuries and I wasn't ready for this tournament, but with good coaching, I plan to go get the gold at the worlds.
"Three doctors told me I would be ready to wrestle in June," he said. "I had to beg them to let me wrestle at nationals. I was joking with my friends today before the final that I was 69 percent ready. By the time we get to the world championships, I've got to be 120 percent. We've got to double it up.
"Now I have to go back home, kiss the wife and baby, and start practicing right away because I don't have very much time to get ready. I don't want to talk too much about it. Main thing: stop talking, start working."
Sahin's long journey to earn a spot on Team USA began when he moved in 2000 from Turkey to Colorado Springs, Colo. He became a member of the U.S. Army Word Class Athlete Program in November of 2003 and attained U.S. citizenship in February of 2004.
"Everybody's dream is to come to the U.S., where the new land is," Sahin said. "When I came here at first I didn't think I was going to stay. I was teaching over there at the university and I had a great job and everything. When I came here, I had no relatives with me, but I love this country, and I decided on my own to stay."
Sahin quit his job and stopped wrestling. At that time, he said he simply "wanted to pursue my life." It wasn't long, however, before Sahin was back on the mat. On April 10, he won his weight class at the 2004 U.S. National Wrestling Championships.
"Since I joined the Army I've been waking up early and training hard," Sahin said that day in Las Vegas. "Now I'm chasing my Olympic dream."
Those dreams, however, were put on hold when the USADA announced the decision by an independent three-member arbitration panel from the American Arbitration Association/North American Court of Arbitration for Sport to impose a two-year suspension for Sahin's first-time doping violation for the use of phentermine, a prohibited substance under the rules of the Federation Internationale des Luttes Associates, the international federation for the sport of wrestling.
USA Wrestling and the U.S. Olympic Committee concurred, and Sahin accepted and began serving the suspension on May 18, 2004. He also was released from WCAP and returned to his Army unit.
Years of hard work and dedication were required for Sahin to get reinstated in WCAP and wrestle back into world championship contention.
"We are human," Sahin said. "We all have ups and downs, but we have to learn from our experience to get back and go through the struggle and get on top. I thank God for helping me get through all this. And coming back to WCAP again, I have a great coaching staff, commander and first sergeant - everybody from Washington - Mr. Willie Wilson. Everybody is supporting us big-time. There is no excuse for us to not win."
"The substance had something to do with losing water weight," said Wilson, who directs the Army World Class Athlete Program from the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command in Alexandria. "It wasn't a controlled substance that would have caused him legal issues. He tested positive for a substance banned by the United States Olympic Committee, not an illegal substance.
"He was only allowed to reapply for WCAP after he re-established himself as a Soldier," Wilson said. "We received a glowing letter of recommendation from his chain of command, and based on his performance as a Soldier, we gave him an opportunity to serve in WCAP again to pursue his Olympic dream.
"Since he came back, the commander and first sergeant have had nothing but glowing comments about him. He is performing very well not only as an athlete, but as a Soldier."
WCAP wrestling coach Staff Sgt. Shon Lewis felt obligated to help Sahin salvage his life in America.
"The Black and Gold Army wrestling team is bigger than just wrestling," Lewis said. "I wasn't really even thinking much about having him back on the team, I was just thinking about helping a family member out - getting him back in the program and making sure that he's alright. He's been a great Soldier. The bonus was that he's a great wrestler.
"He's definitely had some obstacles, and he's definitely had to grind it out."
Along the way, Sahin overcame more than his share of doubt.
"After the 2006 Nationals, I quit wrestling," he said. "And then my coach got me back in the program. He said, 'Faruk, I've got your orders.' And I said, 'Wow, another chance for me,' and I got back with the program. Coach Lewis is a great sport.
"If WCAP wasn't there, I wouldn't be here. Some people have to carry the rucksack, and we have to battle here to win the gold for the Army. I was also thinking about Soldiers overseas.
"I have to say thanks to my teammates for pulling me all the way through," Sahin said. "And thanks to the World Class Athlete Program coaches and commanders, too."
Sahin thinks he will wrestle better on the world stage in September.
"I believe I wrestle better overseas than here because we know each other," he said. "Now we can wrestle smart and get tough and be united and become one team."
Sahin must keep working to complete the mission.
"This is probably the most sound I've seen Faruk wrestle from start to finish," Lewis said at the World Team Trials. "Usually, in these tournaments, he has some type of lapse. He did pretty well in Vegas, too, so he's had back-to-back tournaments where he's been sound. That's encouraging, but we still have a lot of work to do before we get to Denmark for the World Championships."
Sahin is game for the task.
"It's unbelievable how proud I am to come to the U.S. and represent the U.S. Army on the U.S. National Team as a Turkish-American," he said. "You don't see many of them around. I love it. I'm just living my dream right now."
(Tim Hipps writes for the Family and MWR Command Public Affairs Office.)