Byers intends to make good on Olympic promise to grandfather
April 17, 2012
SAN ANTONIO (Army News Service, April 17, 2012) -- U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program wrestler Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers is more concerned about making good on a promise to his late grandfather than the return of Rulon Gardner, his former archrival on the mat.
"I just want to make sure I get the medals that nobody said I could get, and especially the one I promised my grandfather," said Byers, who vowed to win an Olympic medal for his late grandfather, Theodore Byers. "Chase the medals, and the right one will come. That's our philosophy with the Olympics.
"I want it to be gold. I've always wanted it to be gold, and he wanted it to be gold. He would have been proud no matter what I brought home, but gold is why I was going. I've got my promise coating that medal. It's the one that has eluded me. I understand both sides of that coin, I definitely do, but I just need my coin to be gold."
Byers, 37, is a 2008 Olympian and the lone U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win gold, silver and bronze medals at the World Championships. A 10-time U.S. national champion, he is the only American wrestler to strike gold at both the open and Military World Championships.
Byers' next challenge comes Saturday at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa. He awaits the winner of the challenge tournament for their best-of-three match finals in the 120-kilogram/264.5-pound weight class. The winner will compete for Team USA at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Gardner, 40, an Olympic gold and bronze medalist who trained with and competed against Byers for several years before retiring from the mat in 2004, will attempt to make weight Friday, win the challenge tournament Saturday, and get a shot at Byers on Saturday night.
Gardner knows Byers is the wrestler he must defeat to make Team USA.
"He's the man," Gardner said. "He's been the man for seven years. He's won three world medals. I just hope I get to that point and beat the other guys to get to Byers in the finals. He wants to be the best, and I have the same dream. If I don't make the team, I want Byers to make the team and win a medal for our country."
In late January, Gardner won four matches without allowing a point at the Kiki Cup, an international tournament at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. For that event, however, wrestlers did not have to make weight.
"Yeah, he wrestled," Byers said. "There's not much to say about it, he wrestled. It just makes me aware."
Prior to the Kiki Cup, Gardner's last significant competition was on NBC's "The Biggest Loser" after he grew to 474 pounds.
"This man was out there at 474 pounds, and whatever life he had at that weight was not good," Byers said. "The man done touched the moon, practically, in this sport, and all those accomplishments don't mean anything if you're out there with a miserable existence."
Byers said wrestling saved Gardner's life, which is saying a lot for a man who survived a snowmobile crash that led to frostbite that claimed a toe, a motorcycle collision with a car, and a single-engine plane crash into Utah's Lake Powell, from which he swam nearly two hours in 44-degree water to the shore.
"It can get bad when you're done," Byers said. "But this sport will save you. That's what I see. All this other stuff is going to get settled on the mat."
Gardner ended Russian Alexander Karelin's 13-year winning streak at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. But Byers qualified the heavyweight class for Team USA to compete in the 2012 London Games by winning a Pan American Olympic Games Qualifying Tournament on March 24 in Kissimmee, Fla.
"It's not an Olympic dream, it's an obsession," Byers said. "This is real life. My identity is wrapped up in this. My next breath is wrapped up in this. The way I feel right now, I've got to go. I'm not going to breathe right if I don't get this done. I'm at that point now where this is serious. I've still got to get this medal."
Byers said he appreciates the benefits of training for an individual sport with the support of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program wrestling team, based at Fort Carson, Colo.
"Without WCAP, none of this would be possible," Byers said. "The staff that believes in us and pushes us -- it's real hard to find strong, confident people that want to be behind the scenes and push every day to make something happen. They very rarely get the praise that they deserve. I'm very appreciative of them and their support.
"And to my fellow Soldiers out there, thank you for the emails that I've been receiving because I use everything," Byers said. "Every drop of fuel makes this success possible."
Byers learned at the 2008 Beijing Games how small the field of competitors is at an Olympic wrestling tournament, and just how quickly one can get knocked from medal contention. He promised himself not to get overwhelmed this time.
"I'm definitely confident in the fight that it takes to get over there," Byers said of making Team USA for the trip to London. "I'm more focused on just getting there, and that way I can be me and do what I've got to do."
Winning an Olympic medal would mean much more to Byers than just making good on a promise.
"It would mean it was all for something, and I am who I said I was, at least who my dog thinks I am," Byers said. "Going and getting that done, it would just set everything right. The bucket list would be pretty light after that. You could sit back and just appreciate the fact that you did that. I'd probably fade away and find me a rocking chair. I would be comfortable in knowing that happened."
Byers will talk about the possibility of coaching one minute, followed by his fantasy of competing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"I want to be the oldest guy out there that can tell you what it was like," said Byers, who mentioned Marine Corps retired Master Sgt. Greg Gibson, a 1984 Olympic silver medalist who wrestled competitively until age 48. "I know that's dating myself, too. He was a three-style world medalist. Not many people can say that. I don't know anybody who can. I haven't done the research, but I hope he's the only one, and I know him.
"It's been a great ride, been a great ride, and it still is," Byers said of his storied career. "It's the most perfect accident that I've ever been blessed with. I know it's a blessing every day, and I appreciate it."