July 27, 2010, 1:41 p.m. (ET)

To say Faruk Sahin has come a long way in the last decade would be a sumo-sized understatement.

In 1999, the Turkish-born wrestler admittedly knew very little of American culture.

“I grew up watching old Hollywood movies,” Sahin said. “You watch ‘Rambo,’ you watch Bruce Lee. That was my image of the U.S.

Later that year, he made his first trip to the United States, where his fellow wrestlers taught him some of the, uhh, basics of the English language.

“I didn’t learn much English,” he said. “I only learned how to call girls, ‘Pumpkin,’ or funny things like that which my wrestling buddies taught me.”

At the time, Sahin had no idea how long he would be in the United States. He was planning on a three-month stay since he had a great life back in Turkey, where he was once a two-time junior national champion and later became a college professor of exercise science.

“From Day One, he’s always been a great wrestler,” said Steve Fraser, the national Greco-Roman wrestling coach who began working with Sahin in Michigan in 2000. “We just had no idea whether or not he could ever get U.S. citizenship.”

That was 10 years ago. In many ways, though, it feels like 100. After all, Sahin has endured a roller coaster of experiences over the last decade, from getting suspended and injured to winning championships and starting a family.

Now he’s 34 and a U.S. citizen.

And he reached this point while also serving in the military. That’s right, Sahin holds a rank of Specialist in the United States Army and has wrestled as part of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program since 2003.

“I’m a solider first,” he said. “An athlete second.”

Since permanently moving to the U.S. in 2000, Sahin has quickly become one of the premier wrestlers in the nation. He is currently ranked No. 1 in the country in the 145.5-pound weight class and has competed for the U.S. on the last two world teams.

“He’s a very powerful, explosive wrestler,” Fraser said. “A good lifter, very quick, very strong. … I’m really hoping this year that he wrestles well and wins a medal for himself, because he deserves it.”

Sahin has had his share of trials and tribulations to reach this point. In addition to overcoming major injuries to his knee and thumb, he also had to sit out two seasons from wrestling after testing positive for a banned stimulant. Sahin said he attributes the positive test to a painkiller that he was “naïve” about.

“That’s what life’s all about,” Sahin said. “You’re going to have obstacles in the way, you’re going to have struggles. But that’s what makes a person even stronger. ... Can you be thankful for something bad happening to you? I am. Because of (the ban), lots of good things happened in my life.”

One of those good things was that he met his wife, Amanda, with whom he now has a 15-month-old son, Akif Nelson Furkan.

The Sahins currently live about five miles from the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Faruk lived at the training center from 2001 to 2003 but still frequents the complex to do the bulk of his training and practicing.

As the top-ranked wrestler in his weight class, Sahin receives a stipend of $1,000 a month from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Together with USA Wrestling, the USOC pays for all of Sahin’s travel and accommodations while he’s at competitions. He also receives a salary from the Army, providing him a security blanket that most Olympic hopefuls do not have.

“I’m thankful where we are at (financially) right now,” Sahin said. “Of course, being No. 1 helps a lot.”

“You don’t start getting support until you start gaining some credentials, some status. But nobody’s getting rich, I can guarantee that. Everybody struggles. … Most wrestlers are very poor, but the USOC helps and USA Wrestling helps. With all the help, wrestlers are able to survive,” said Fraser.

Sahin has not only survived — he’s flourished. But, like Fraser said, not without plenty of financial assistance from the sport’s governing bodies.

“There is no way I could do this without USA Wrestling paying for my travels and stuff,” Sahin said. “I couldn’t wrestle. I couldn’t do my sport. I couldn’t pursue my dream. I’m very thankful to the USOC and USA Wrestling.”

Sahin’s dream, of course, is to make the Olympic team. He has his eyes set on the London 2012 Olympic Games after barely missing out on competing in Beijing in 2008.

“That would be an unbelievable fulfillment of my life,” he said. “Coming over from Turkey as an immigrant, working hard and wrestling and pursuing my Olympic dream and representing USA in the Olympics, it would mean a lot to me, to my family, to my country.”

And when he says “my country’’ these days, he’s referring to the United States.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Drew Silverman is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.