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Mahonski Wins Wrestling Gold — Again!

Mahonski Wins Wrestling Gold — Again!

Wrestling legend and hometown hero Rick Mahonski dusted off his headgear after decades of athletic retirement to take on some of the world’s best master wrestlers.

Some of Mahonski’s accolades include: 1972 PA State Champion, 1974 NCAA D3 National runner-up, Team member 1974 D3 National Champions (Wilkes College), 1976 EIAA D1 runner-up, West Branch Wrestling Hall of Fame, and Wilkes College Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Now he can add Folkstyle Masters F National Champion (67-75 years), Greco-Roman Masters F National Champion, and Freestyle Masters F runner-up to his list of accomplishments. I reached out to Rick, who was gracious enough to give me an interview.

Dave: You’ve had a long and successful athletic career. What made you want to step back on the wrestling mat after all this time?

Rick: I believe if we connect with in life that is positive for us, we don’t want to let it go. It’s like a relationship with anyone or anything you love; you want to keep it in your life. Wrestling never leaves you if you competed. It becomes a part of you. However, competing when you are older is difficult, as the body will tell you, “You can’t do this anymore.” So, you have to fight what the body is telling you.

Dave: What got you into wrestling?

Rick: Hank Green was a legendary coach at Roosevelt Jr. High in the 1960s and 70s. He went undefeated for 16 consecutive years. This was against tough competition such as Jersey Shore, Lock Haven, Montoursville, South Williamsport, and the local Jr. Highs, Curtin and Stevens. He had me climb a rope in gym class that went to the top of the gym. When I did it, he said you are going to be a wrestler. I was in 7th grade. It was like being in the Marines. Hank was tough, but everyone who ever wrestled for him would praise him later in life. As adults, they understood what he gave them.

Dave: From prior conversations we’ve had, wrestling seems to be a way of life for you. Can you talk about this?

Rick: Wrestling is a lifestyle. You have to give the essence of who you are to the sport to be successful. There is no easy way to be a wrestler. Everything you do in life will be easy after wrestling. Not only physically but emotionally. What I mean by that is we are all going to face emotional difficulties in life. Nothing prepares you for those times like wrestling. It’s just you facing life’s difficulties like it was you facing your opponent on the mat. No excuses, just you and him.

Dave: How did it feel getting back on the mat, both physically and mentally?

Rick: Returning to the mat was a big challenge, both physically and mentally. It would be easy for any 69-year-old to understand the difficulty of the physical part. The mental part is a battle with yourself. The brain says, “I can’t do this,” but you have to convince your brain you can. It’s an internal battle that you have almost every workout on the mat. You go back to that old saying-never quit!

Dave: Are you glad you decided to get back into wrestling?

Rick: I am so happy to be able to compete again. Perhaps it’s trying to reach back in time to the glory days of youth. Whatever it is, it’s a wonderful feeling. I hope it lets older people know that it is possible to get back in shape. Maybe not as good as you once were, but good enough to feel great about what you’ve accomplished.

Dave: What does your family think about your renewed interest in competition?

Rick: My family was so supportive of me returning to the mat. At first, they were worried I may injure my hands or arms. As a goldsmith, they are my tools. I was worried, too, but the desire to compete again won out, and it was a great decision. My daughters, Lauren and Jaime, were excited to see me wrestle, as they had only heard old stories from Pops. My son, Christopher, who is an avid skateboarder and mountain biker, said it motivated him to new levels. It was amazing when my daughter, son-in-law Nate, my brother, niece, and girlfriend, Robin, showed up in Vegas to support me. I also had two of my teammates from the 1973 D3 national championship team show up to watch me compete.

Dave: What was your training like?

Rick: Training was extremely difficult at first. The technique and speed came back after a while, but the conditioning was brutal. I learned to train smart. By that, I mean you have to work on cardio slowly. You are not in your teens anymore. Drilling, Jacob’s ladder, step machines, and wrestling eventually got me into competition shape.

Dave: Did you make any major dietary changes to make weight?

Rick: Eating properly certainly helps with getting into shape. I eat meat, fish, chicken, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. I also cut out all junk food. It felt good, however, to have ice cream after Vegas.

Dave: Walk me through Nationals.

Rick: The Folkstyle Nationals in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, were great. I made lots of new friends who had also dedicated their lives to the sport. Ron Berman, from Florida, was a Michigan state champion in 1972, the same year I won in PA. He is an attorney in Palm Beach who was one of the founders of Rocket Mortgage. We shared some good stories. He said he knew me from my Granby Roll in the 70s. He did not expect a 69-year-old guy to still be hitting Granbys. I caught him in one for 5 points, which won me the match 7-4. We laughed afterward.

Vegas was just as exciting. To see the best wrestlers in the country aged 12-20 and the master’s division was incredible. In the Greco-Roman finals, I was against Clifford Ray from Arizona. I got behind 4-1 but made a comeback to win 15-4. In the Freestyle finals, I met the world champion, Raphael McDonald, from Cleveland, Ohio. In the first period, he shot a double, and we collided head-to-head. I saw stars, and the doctor said it was a minor concussion and would not permit me to continue. Raphael is an incredible wrestler who is sponsored by Rudis, one of the top wrestling equipment companies in the world. I became good friends with him after the match.

Dave: What’s next for Rick Mahonski, the wrestler?

Rick: Next, I’m taking a few weeks off to think about the master’s division worlds in September, which are back in Vegas. I would love to do it again, listen to my body, and then decide what’s next.