Four 2017 World Medalists get LDMF bonus checks as wrestling stars shine at Victory Tour stop in Detroit

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Sept. 10, 2017, 12:10 a.m. (ET)
Wrestling leaders meet with the 2017 World medalists as part of the Living Dream Medal Fund presentation during the Victory Tour. (left to right) Dan Russell, John Bardis, Dave Barry, 2017 World silver medalist Alli Ragan, 2017 World bronze medalist Becka Leathers, 2017 World champion Jordan Burroughs, Mike Novogratz, Bill Zadick, 2017 World bronze medalist J’den Cox, Clarissa Chun, Major General Paul Kennedy of USMC. Photo by Justin Hoch.

DETROIT, Mich. - It was a big night of celebration and friendship, as heroes from the wrestling community came out in big numbers at the U.S. Wrestling Foundation's #EveryoneWrestles Victory Tour at the Cobo Center in Detroit, Mich., Saturday night.

One of the highlights of the evening was the presentation of Living Dream Medal Fund checks to four medalists from the 2017 World Wrestling Championships, gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, silver medalist Alli Ragan and bronze medalists J’den Cox and Becka Leathers. Living Dream Medal Fund stewards Mike Novogratz and Dave Barry presented the checks.

Burroughs received a $50,000 check for winning the gold medal at 74 kg, his fifth career World or Olympic gold medal. He was asked to talk about how he prepares mentally to overcome challenges.

“I would say it’s personal preparation, and visualization of my goals. I wanted to have personal redemption in Paris. I had marked that date on my calendar for a long time. I knew it would be difficult in the process. For me, it would be focusing on the moment. I knew it would be difficult. I was back in the pack. I was no longer the favorite. I knew I still had a special skill set. I knew I was the bad draw for anyone who drew me in the tournament,” said Burroughs.

Winning a World silver medal for the second straight year was Ragan, who received a $25,000 check for placing second at 60 kg in Paris. Ragan was asked about the lessons she has learned from the sport.

“Wrestling has taught me disciple, and building your character every day. There is persistence, resilience. Wrestling teaches you so many things that you can take into all parts of your life,” said Ragan.

Getting $15,000 checks were J’den Cox, who won bronze at 86 kg, and Becka Leathers, who won her bronze at 55 kg. Cox was also an Olympic bronze medalist last year, while Leathers was competing in her first Senior World Championships.

Cox explained what he meant when he had said wrestling was not a struggle, but was a sacrifice.

“Wrestling is not a struggle for me, because wrestling is something I have a passion for. Even cutting weight. I love that I get to step on a scale and it says 188, and the next day I get to go out there and step on the line. In wrestling, there are sacrifices to be made. There are sacrifices with my time, away from my family and my friends. There’s sacrifices when they are doing other things and I have to be in the room, and there are sacrifices about the food you can eat. There are so many sacrifices you have to make. There are all of these little bitsy sacrifices, and all great things come from little processes. Each step in the process you make, you do yourself one little bit at a time. If you keep making those sacrifices, and it is a passion for you, that is where you will be with the sport,” said Cox.

Leathers talked how she got involved in wrestling as a youth in Oklahoma.

“I started wrestling in fifth grade. Coaches, they recruit everyone who looks like they can do a pushup. I watched my brother wrestle every year, and I said, ‘you know what, I can do that.’ It took me a year to convince my dad that I should wrestle. You know, ‘no daughter of mine…’ It took me a year to convince him I could wrestle, and when I did, I fell in love with the sport,” said Leathers.

For World Championships, the fund provides $50,000 for a gold medal, $25,000 for a silver medal and $15,000 for a bronze medal. During Olympic years, the fund provides $250,000 for an Olympic gold medal, $50,000 for an Olympic silver medal and $25,000 for an Olympic bronze medal. Over the nine years of the program, there has been $2,095,000 awarded to U.S. World and Olympic wrestling medalists.

The USA won nine medals at the 2017 World Championships, and the $270,000 payout awarded this year was the most in a non-Olympic year since the program was created in 2009. The other five U.S. World medalists will receive their checks at a future Victory Tour stop.

Novogratz, who was the driving force behind the creation of the Living Dream Medal Fund, talked about what the program has done to help support wrestlers, but said more needed to be done. He spoke about a professional league that he and others are currently working on for Olympic-level wrestlers.

“I think there is an obligation in this room that these athletes have a broader platform. They are the best that America has to offer, Kyle Snyder, Jordan Burroughs, Helen Maroulis, Becka Leathers, Alli Ragan and J’den Cox. We want our kids to grow up to be them. We want our Marines to look up to these guys. We are going to work really hard to put a professional wrestling league together, because what we have is not enough. This is as good as any athletes in the world. It is time to start to get paid and to get recognized,” said Novogratz.

The check presentations were part of a larger program, where major wrestling celebrities and the general public comes together to celebrate the sport, and raise money to build wrestling at all levels.

John Bardis, the Assistant Secretary Health and Human Services, gave the keynote address at the dinner, talking about wrestling, sports, history and how it ties into the themes of campaign of the Victory Tour.

“We are the greatest country that ever been. But you know what, there is no guarantee for tomorrow. Every generation has to carry the mantle, because this is not royalty, this is not a family, this is not a dictatorship. This is an ideal. For us, wrestling matters. Difficult things matter, because without it, our character can’t be built. It is the exact opposite of what we hope for. We all want it easy. But we can all go to our graves knowing we gave it our best,” he said.

The #EveryoneWrestles Victory Tour was presented by the United States Marine Corps, and was included in Marine Week Detroit, a major community activity. Each year, the USMC selects one city per year, for a celebration of Community, Country and Corps – providing the American public the experience of directly connecting with hundreds of Marines.

Major General Paul Kennedy of the USMC talked about how the Marine Corps takes pride in helping young men and women become successful warriors who defended our nation and its ideals, but most of it comes from their lives before they join the military.

“The truth of the matter is that they come to us about 80% formed before they ever raise their hand to join the Marines. They learned the ideals about how to fight for something and how to defend something and how to persevere from some of the worse experiences that could be thrown in front of them, on the playing field or in a mat room or sometimes on ice. They are inspired by their big brothers and their cousins and people who have gone before them. And they look to some of these medalists who beckon them from Olympus, that you too can reach the pinnacle from what life offers, long before they ever put this uniform on,” said Kennedy.

Three-time NCAA champion Mark Churella, who grew up in Michigan and was a star for the University of Michigan, spoke about his passionate support for Beat the Streets Detroit, which was among the groups to benefit from the Victory Tour stop. Churella talked about how he got involved, when legendary retired coach Mike Rodriguez of Detroit Catholic Central High School told him that he was going to start a Beat the Streets program in September 2009 and explained what he planned to do to get it going.

“I said Mike, you have a lot of gaps in your plan. He told me that God always provides. I simply answered, ‘I’m in.’ By September 2009, we were a non-profit organization. We secured a wrestling mat. We secured a location in southwest Detroit. We purchased a mat lift so we could keep it up in the ceiling, so it would not get stolen or damaged. We created a website, produced marketing materials and distributed flyers to every middle school in southwest Detroit. We met with principals and parents’ organizations. We arranged for shoes, shirts, shorts and headgear thanks to Cliff Keen. We put together our coaching staff. On the first Tuesday in September of 2009, Beat the Streets Detroit was underway with 70 kids wrestling,” said Churella.

Much of the evening was spent in social settings, as many of the greatest wrestling legends came together to enjoy spending time together with other wrestling enthusiasts

Olympic champions on hand included Burroughs and 1984 Olympic Greco-Roman champion Steve Fraser, a Michigan native.Olympic medalists were Cox, plus Matt Ghaffari (Greco-Roman), Clarissa Chun (women’s freestyle) and Don Behm (men’s freestyle)

There was a pair of four-time World champions at the event, Burroughs and Tricia Saunders, who grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich. and went on to become on the nation’s greatest champions.

Also on hand was three-time World champion Lee Kemp, plus World champions Chun and Bill Zadick, who also coached the 2017 U.S. freestyle team to its historic World Team Title.

Two-time Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler and MMA superstar Dan Henderson was among the special guests. Also on hand was Grady Peninger, who coached Michigan State to a 1967 national team championship.

Earlier in the day, 500 local Michigan wrestlers and coaches attended a free World Medalist Wrestling Clinic at Cobo Center, where 2017 World medalists Burroughs, Ragan, Cox and Leathers gave instruction, along with Junior World champion Kamal Bey and World champion and Olympic medalist Clarissa Chun. A free lunch was provided to all the participants by Little Ceasar’s.

USA Wrestling will post additional video interviews from the Victory Tour, and share some outstanding photos taken by Justin Hoch.

Check out the full schedule of U.S. Wrestling Foundation's #EveryoneWrestles Victory Tour at USWrestlingFoundation.com/victory