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Continued from page 8

the head of WCAP at that time,” he said. “An official and the athletic director of the instillation made a phone call (to Thomas) without even talking to each other. “They got in touch with my company commander, who happened to be a four- time high school state champion. They cut a deal to let me try out for All-Army wrestling,” said Byers.

Byers had wrestled one freestyle tour- nament in his life.

“Back then I was just coasting on ath- letic ability,” he said. “I probably still am.” With his job now to wrestle for the

Army, Byers helped elevate WCAP to new heights with his 2002 World Championship at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. in Moscow, Russia.

Byers presence on the mats have made WCAP a known brand within wrestling.

“Dremiel Byers is the most successful of any military athlete in any branch of the United States Armed Forces,” said Lewis. “We’re getting the Lesters and the Mangos, but that’s just the start, the foun- dation.”

In 2005, Iris Smith became the pro-

gram’s second world champion, claiming the women’s freestyle title at 72kg. “There were good wrestlers before Byers, but he’s taken it to another level. He set the standard and set the bar for our top guys. We’re looking for Mango and Lester to duplicate what Byers has done, if not more. Lester, a two-time World bronze medal- ist prior to joining the Army, always saw WCAP as an option, but wasn’t ready to take the plunge until 2010. “I’ve been talking to Shon about it for years,” said Lester. “It just never material- ized until U.S. Nationals in Cleveland. That’s when I made my decision. It’s a whole lifestyle thing. Being in the Army and when you have people looking up to you and when you have responsibilities, it puts you in a place where you have to try to strive to do better. “Training-wise, being a healthier per- son, all those aspects,” he said. Lewis has to explain the differences between the WCAP unit and the “Full Metal Jacket” Army stigma.

“What we have is now a direct assign- ment,” Lewis said in explaining how WCAP works. “They put it in a soldier’s contract they will come right to the World Class Athlete Program. We identify (wrestlers) at tournaments and if they decide if they want to be part of the pro- gram. (Barack) Obama himself can’t change that contract. There’s no loophole where you might not be able to come to the wrestling team.”

Dremiel Byers is one of the leaders in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program. Byers has won World gold, silver and bronze medals, and helped lead the U.S. to the team title at the 2007 World Championships. Byers, a 2008 Olympian, is the favorite to make the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman Team at heavy- weight in 2012.

Larry Slater photos.

“As far as the Army is concerned, we’re the only one with a direct assignment,” said Lewis. “They think as soon as you sign up, there’s a chance you go to war. The change we made is having a direct assignment. That’s in your contract. No chance to go to war.” After wrestlers decide they want to be

a part of WCAP, they do all the basic Army things – well, mainly one basic thing – basic training.

Lester was in Fort Jackson, S.C. It wasn’t pleasant.

“I was there for like 12 weeks,” said Lester. “I got stuck for extra weeks. It was

crazy. For one, it was 100-plus degrees for 10 of those weeks, so I lost about 25 pounds while I was there just from the constant activity.” It’s not summer camp. Activities includ- ed marches, formations, and 13-mile runs with 60-pound backpacks, all in the swel- tering, humid South Carolina heat. “It was great with dealing with mental toughness and keeping guys going,” said Lester. After basic training comes Advanced Individual Training (AIT).

“Everyone does the same basic train- Continued on page 10

USA Wrestler 9

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