The Second Time Around

By Ted Witulski | Nov. 29, 2001, 12 a.m. (ET)
In the world of wrestling second chances are tough to come by. At the highest level of achievement, wrestlers are often left with the tortuous self-analysis of, "if I only had that to do over again". When a wrestler fails to achieve his goals, another year of rigorous training is what stands in the way of the often-desired second chance. For Jim Gruenwald, the United States representative at 58 kg, the blessing of a second chance was definitely not guaranteed. Last summer, Gruenwald finally surpassed one of America's most decorated Greco-Roman wrestlers-World Champion Dennis Hall. After many years of patience and perseverance Gruenwald upset Hall at the Olympic Trials in Dallas. The best two out of three series from the outset looked to be another typical close loss to Dennis Hall. After dropping the first match 3-2, Gruenwald surged back into the series with a 3-0 victory. The victory of course was meaningful for Gruenwald. Wins against Hall were few and far between; losses were more common. Hall had racked up nearly a dozen Greco victories against him through the years. Even as far back to high school in the 1988 Wisconsin State Championships Hall had won gold while Gruenwald had to settle for the silver. During the rubber-match in Dallas, it seemed Gruenwald unleashed years of pent up frustration. Capturing the series with an 8-3 victory over Hall meant that Gruenwald had earned his way to the Olympics. A berth on his first World Team was special, to Gruenwald, with it being an Olympic year and against a difficult foe. Gruenwald's wrestling career had seemed to be paralyzed in anonymity on the international level until the 2000 victory in Dallas. Gruenwald in 1986 won a Cadet Greco National Tite, and in 1987 he won a state title competing for Bob Carlson at Greendale high school. From there Gruenwald attended Marantha Baptist Bible College where he graduated with a B.S. in secondary math education and Bible studies. Gruenwald was a three-time National Christian College Champion under the coaching of Ben Peterson, 1972 Olympic Champion. To this day, Gruenwald's spirituality is deeply intertwined with wrestling. He credits Ben Peterson for teaching him that, "wrestling is a ministry unto God and Jesus Christ and not just a sport." Upon completing his collegiate years, Jim Gruenwald threw himself into his Greco-Roman training by moving to Colorado Springs and becoming one of the original members of the Resident Training Program at the Olympic Training Center. By leaving Wisconsin and becoming a Resident Greco-wrestler, Gruenwald found what he needed to begin making a steady climb up the ladder of the elite rankings. "The Resident Program provided all the required tools to be successful: a great coaching staff and training facilities, a place to live and food", said Gruenwald, "If someone wants to do well in this sport they need to be at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs." Nearly upon his arrival in Colorado Springs Gruenwald took a position as an advanced math teacher at Hilltop Baptist High School. Still to this day Gruenwald races between two-a-day practices at the Training Center and a half-load of high school courses to be taught. Gruenwald is known as a terrific motivator of students and an outstanding role model for the kids he teaches. Principal Carl Adams noted the uniqueness of Gruenwald's situation by saying, "we support his Olympic efforts and have made accommodations for Jim to take as many as 10 days off for travel during the year." Hilltop's efforts to assist Gruenwald in making a living while pursuing Olympic glory are even more important now that he is a father. This past summer Jim's wife Rachel gave birth to their first child, son-Adin. At the Sydney Olympics, Gruenwald finished sixth. It was a successful performance for him, but not nearly the goal he had set for himself. Gruenwald felt that he was a bit too serious at the Olympics, "I do my best when I'm relaxed and having fun." With the Olympics behind him, he set out to train for another shot at the World medal he still seeks. Trying to stay relaxed and having fun is difficult for any wrestler, particularly in Gruenwald's case. To get back on top of the national ladder Gruenwald would have to once again face-off against Dennis Hall. The confidence that Gruenwald gained in 2000 was quickly shattered at the 2001 U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas. The two met in the finals and with one spectacular front-to-front throw, Hall garnered five points and the gold medal. It was a familiar situation for Gruenwald still to this day he has not won a U.S. Nationals Championship. "I loath losing, said Gruenwald in reflection, "Every Nationals loss has hurt. It is a goal I have not achieved." A loss in April for a senior level wrestler means that there is time to reinvigorate their training before the all-important World Team Trials in June. According to Gruenwald, "I had to go back to the room and fix the mistakes I made; it definitely fired me up." Cincinnati hosted the World Team Trials in 2001 and Gruenwald advanced through the challenge tournament for another best of three series against Hall. The mistake of letting Hall score early and capturing a safe lead was fresh in his mind from Vegas. Hall has the ability to latch on to an opponent early and hit big moves. Gruenwald was ready to weather the ferocious intensity from the opening whistle. In two successive 3-0 victories against Hall, Gruenwald had earned his way back on to the United States World Team. Jim Gruenwald, who only started wrestling as a sixth grader, is still aiming to capture a World Medal. Of the eight Greco members, Gruenwald's experience last summer coupled with clean living and a new-found relaxed approach to the big tournaments makes him one of America's favorites to bring home a medal from Athens. With the Worlds fast approaching Gruenwald states, "I think each year God gives me a little more wisdom to handle the challenges of life." The Worlds will once again be the most challenging tournament he faces. "To wrestle you must really love the sport, for it leaves you exposed daily, both emotionally and physically, said Gruenwald. Having faced many setbacks and suffered through the agony of repeated losses to a familiar foe, he's determined to stay relaxed and ready the second time around.