By Matt SmithFebruary 20, 2009
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Sometimes, you don't realize how much you love something until that something is gone.
Just ask Brett Favre or Michael Jordan; giving up a sport you've known and loved your entire life is not easy to do. Once you leave it, there's an empty hole left in its stead.
Some athletes have made successful returns to their beloved games (Jordan won three championships after his first return to the NBA) and some realized they should have just stayed at home (Favre led the NFL in interceptions thrown with 22 in 2008).
Michael Preece, a two-time Ohio state freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling state champion and a sergeant with 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, hopes his return to the mat is more Jordan-esque than Farve-like.
Preece, who quit wrestling after his first year at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio, is currently attempting a comeback of his own at the All-Army wrestling trial camp at Fort Carson, Colo.
The Marysville, Ohio, native began wrestling at the age of six when a friend introduced him to the sport that he lived and breathed until college.
But after his collegiate freshman year, Preece decided he had had enough of wrestling and wanted a change.
"I enjoyed (wrestling), but it was to that point where I was that person who didn't want to work out every day so I just threw it to the curbside and just went on with my life," said the 23 year old. "I felt like I was getting burned out, I didn't want to be there. I just felt like I had been doing this my whole life and I just don't feel like doing it anymore, so I got out.
"I just wanted to leave Ohio and find something different."
That "something different" was the Army.
Preece had joined the Army Reserves right out of high school, so he simply went active duty and wound up at Fort Lewis.
He deployed with his 4th Brigade unit as part of the 2007 "surge" in Iraq where he suffered hearing loss in his right ear when his Stryker was hit by an IED.
It was when he returned home to Ohio after a 15-month deployment that Preece got his first taste of wrestling since leaving the Mount St. Joseph campus.
"My dad had actually signed me up for (a wrestling tournament)," said Preece, who weighs around 160 pounds, but wrestles at 132 pounds. "No one showed up in my age bracket so they threw a couple high schoolers at me.
"One ... was a state runner up and the other dude outweighed me, he was a 189 pounder, and he placed at state. So these guys were good, or whatever. And I ended up destroying both of them. I pinned the one, and I beat the other one by points."
This success rekindled a desire to once again compete in the sport that had defined him until he became a Soldier.
"I just missed it. There was just a void," Preece said. "Wrestling was my life for the bigger portion of my life and so just not having it ... I needed it back."
His competing for a spot on the All-Army squad is the realization of a goal he made for his self as a senior in high school.
"(Wrestling is) actually how the recruiter got me," Preece said. "He came in to one of my practices in high school and said, 'You know, you can wrestle for the Army.' That was the goal, but then when I got in, one thing (led to) another, kind of a snowball effect and the next thing I know I was in Iraq."
Once he made the decision to pursue a spot on the All-Army team, Preece needed to find a tournament to compete in that, if he did well enough, would earn him an invitation to try out for the team.
Luckily for him, the 2008 Fort Lewis Intramural Wrestling Championships were precisely that type of tournament.
Preece said heading into the Fort Lewis tournament that "There was a lot of weight on my shoulders. (I was) thinking, 'If I don't make it now, when is my next chance going to be' I might not have another one.'"
Preece received his invitation to Colorado after he defeated Jeffrey Myers for the 145.5-pound title.
He said being a Soldier has helped him as a wrestler, but wrestling has more so helped him be a better Soldier.
"Wrestling instills a lot of self discipline," he said. "(When) you need to not eat that second cheeseburger when you're losing weight or to actually go and workout when you need to. So I think that helps me a lot as a Soldier to move up the ranks quickly because I had this self-discipline instilled in me when I was really young. So when I came into the military, I already had the self-discipline I needed to do my job."
From his mom and dad as a child to his wife, Rochelle, of 2 1AcA "2 years, Preece has always had support from his family to pursue his passion on the mat.
With his goal within reach, Preece said if he doesn't make the All-Army team, it will not be for a lack of effort.
"I'm just going to keep working out everyday," said Preece who hopes to eventually retire from the Army and then coach high school wrestling. "Even if they release us early, I'm probably just going to go to the gym and keep working out because this is the ultimate goal of a wrestler is to be at this level of wrestling. I'm just going to give it all that I've got and in the end, hope they select me."
Here's to hoping his rebirth on the mat resembles "Air Jordan's" on the court and not the gunslinger from Mississippi's on the football field.
Matt Smith is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.