Camel Blog 2019: Information is power

By Rusty Davidson, Associated Styles Committee | March 05, 2019, 5:25 p.m. (ET)
Photo: Members of the Pan American delegation at the Nomad Universe Congress, Riyadh

March 20:
Everyone got to the airport and are safely on their way home. Our bus showed up at 1:00am, as promised. We loaded all the luggage and sat for an hour… can’t really guess why. We transferred from one major region of Riyadh to another, a little over an hour’s ride. We met the busses from three other hotels and, finally, got checked in around 3:30.

Up at seven to get breakfast and a shower. Then, we began the registration process and accreditation. Meetings started at 10:00.

Today, we attended a thing called the World Ethno-Games Confederation Congress. It seems the main goal was simply to inform a global base of leaders, in sport, culture, and the arts, about the vision and mission of this relatively ne group.

Nomad Universe, it seems, is one large component of this movement. It was driven home to us, through live and video presentations, that the goal is to preserve and protect ancient traditions and ethic expression against from being diluted by ever-increasing globalization.

It’s a worthy goal. Hats off to the leadership and the people of Kyrgyzstan for initiating the movement. Hats off to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for investing heavily in the entrepreneurial aspects. The Royal Family spent a chunk of money assembling performers from nearly 200 cultures.

To the organizers’ credit, we were offered two separate sessions, 45 minutes each, of straight up questions and answers. There were lots more questions than answers.

I got a chance to speak for the Pan American nations represented here. Those include Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Panama and Paraguay. We had reached consensus that Pan American countries offer a wealth of ethnic culture, in our indigenous peoples. From the Inca of Peru, the Maya and Aztec, of Mexico, the USA’s mosaic of Native cultures, to Canada’s assortment of First Nations’ ethnicities, we have a lot to offer.

The same question recurred, throughout the day, from every continent, “What advice and best practice can we draw from the Kyrgyz model?” Specifically, we were all curious about attracting funding, whether it be from government, NGB, or the private sector. We all agree on the nobility of the cause. Sadly, bringing a great cause to fruition costs money.

So, yeah, I am convinced that this organization is doing something good and for honorable intentions. I’m toying with some ideas and proposals that I will bring to USA Wrestling’s Committee for the Associated Styles. Until then, I’ll keep studying.

Ciao.

March 19:
Closing ceremonies for Nomad Universe were tonight. Like a trooper, I boarded the bus for a noon departure. As we rolled, there were a total of six of us on the bus. We were the only bus. On competition days, we fill 18 busses to capacity.

The organizers had the placards laid out for 147 nations, all neatly in alphabetical order. We showed up with two Americans, two Mongolians, a Canadian and a German. Quickly rewriting the script for the parade, organizers gave us permission to catch a 6:00 bus back to the hotel.

That got us back early enough to get everyone prepared for airport shuttles. As I mentioned, yesterday, Roy and Ike went out two hours apart.

Having been selected to attend the World Ethno-Games Confederation and International Camel Organization Congress, I stay four more days. However, that meant moving to a different hotel at midnight. Pretty much everything, here, happens at night.

So, we’ll see what the night brings. Hopefully, we’ll get our guys off to the airport and just go from there.

If you are traveling to Pittsburgh today, I wish you and yours a safe journey.

Ciao

March 18: Travel Rule #1 – Pack before you party

That one’s a little easier than usual in this part of the world. There is absolutely no alcohol in Saudi culture. Athletes and younger coaches do stay up late, tell stories, take pictures and trade contact information. But, at least, they’re functional when they get back to their rooms.

Our American athletes both travel tomorrow (Tuesday) night. Roy will leave the hotel, around 10:00, for a 2:00am flight. Ike leaves at midnight, as his flight departs at 4:00am.

That means both of them will miss the closing ceremonies, which don’t start until eight o’clock. There are a lot of Ceremonies here. Tonight’s celebrate the close of “Nomad Universe” and its games. Saturday night, there’s the closing of the “Camel Festival”. The big deal, Saturday, is that the King will be there.

Speaking of Big Deals, congratulations to our Freestyle World Cup team for their wonderful performance, last weekend. Clearly, some of our brightest, up-and-coming stars wrestled well.

Congrats to our Greco guys, competing in Denmark. Congrats, also, to all our collegiate athletes who have competed over the last couple of weeks.

The other Big Deal is that everyone is starting to make their way into Pittsburgh. This week’s D-1’s look to be one of the best. Please accept our Best Wishes for everyone participating.

We finished the Wrestling competition, today, with Kyrgyz Traditional. This was, pretty much, the same Belt Wrestling as several other titles, but with different uniform pants and no shirt.

This competition was open only to the champions and runners up from all the other styles. Some Muslim athletes were absent, seizing a chance to visit Mecca. Ike volunteered to fill a bye, but was not accepted since he placed third.

So, we have a little time to follow Rule #1. Ike flies out and I have to move to a different hotel, tomorrow night. I will be here until Sunday, taking part in a Congress to plan future Nomad Games and events.

Ciao

March 17: What a difference a day makes

Happy St Patrick’s Day ! I wore green today, but my Saudi friends didn’t much notice. Ike and I both took the day off.

I had been troubling with the decision to stay home one day, but felt guilty even thinking about it. Ike coached me through the guilt. The only event we might have been eligible for today was the Tug-of-War. Ike had decided, early on, this was not for him, so he gave me permission to miss the bus.

This thing has been an eye-opener, for sure. We have seen a lot of extraordinary things and ideas. The people we’ve met, many from struggling economies, are some of the most genuine, happy gentle humans on the planet.

But, this thing is a grind, too. I’ve always thought ‘Fargo’ was the ultimate Wrestling version of the movie, “Groundhog Day.” Fargo’s got nothing on this deal! I have slept more minutes ON the bus than OFF. Seriously!

Add that to the incessant wind, the same meal in the same tent TWICE a day. Walking back and forth, to and from the Wrestling venue, is tough in the sand. If we time it just right, we can follow the giant Water Truck, as it spews to keep down the dust. That way we can track mud, instead of dust, into the dining tent.

As soon as the busses rolled out of the hotel parking lot, my pangs of guilt diminished. I saddled up and went for a five hour walk.

We’re housed, pretty much, in the middle of Riyadh’s business district. Stepping out, onto the sidewalk of an eight-lane street, we can see two of her more famous towers: Kingdom Centre, in the distance, and Al Faisaliah Centre, just a few blocks away.

I visited a pretty large grocery store, along the way. Local Teas and Honey often make good gifts for friends, back home. Then I made my way to Panorama Mall, hoping to get more personal family gifts.

The decision to visit a ‘Mall’ was not a good one. As I should have realized, a ‘Mall’ is a mall, whether it’s in Moscow, Detroit, or Riyadh. I visited, what claims to be, the Largest Toy Store in the World. All I found were Super-Hero items and Barbie Dolls… all named in America and made in China.

The irony struck me. This ‘Nomad Universe’ and its Games is endeavoring to preserve indigenous culture and protect it from the rapid process of globalization. The ‘Mall’ concept thrives on that very globalization. No toys for Grandchildren, this trip.

No clothes, for Eva and Grand-daughters, either. Riyadh is the business center of a very conservative Islamic nation. Most stores that offer women’s clothing are clearly marked, “Families Only”. That means I could go in, if I was with Eva. But, no single men are allowed.

The same idea applies to restaurants. There are two separate entrances and seating areas. Even Micky D’s, in the mall’s food court, has separate lines for men and women.

The one thing I could (and did) buy was perfume. Fragrances make up a big industry, in Saudi culture. Women smell great! Men use a lot of fragrance products, too. I saw several high-dollar fragrance shops, both in the mall and along my walk.

Besides personal fragrance, public fragrance is a big deal, too. Every building we’ve been in has had an incense burner. The fragrance of choice comes from burning ‘Oud’, also known as Agarwood. It provides a very pleasant, calming smell.

On my walk back to the hotel, I came upon a cat. I’ve noticed many feral cats, between hotel and our neighborhood convenience store. This adolescent kitten, though, was far from wild. She seemed as happy to see me as I was to pet her.

So I sat, for a long while, on a building stoop in the shade, and developed a relationship. We accomplished all the petting that goes on, between human and feline. She “Made Bread” on both of my shoes, and well up one leg. She enjoyed untying one shoe and creating a monster from the laces. I do love cats. She provided a relaxing end to a much needed day.

Back on the bus, tomorrow. Ciao.

MARCH 16: All ears

We see light, at the end of the tunnel! Today, Ike competed in two more Traditional Wrestling styles. There are only three more days of competition.

Our two, today, were Kurash and Kurosh. I appreciate how confusing it must be, to the reader, that one letter can redefine wrestling rules and style.

The Kurash, with an ‘A’, originated in the Tatar region of Uzbekistan. It looks a lot like modern Judo, using a heavy Gi, belt and trousers. In his first round match, Ike was in great throwing position, only to be countered by his Ukrainian opponent, Andrii Kunyk, for the complete victory. All of these competitions are single elimination brackets.

The Kurosh, with an ‘O’, is Kyrgyz. With all of these Nomad Games being administered by Kyrgyz organizers, this style turned into a pretty big deal. Kurosh uses a tight-fitting shirt and belt over trousers. Each bout starts, like many of the styles, with athletes engaged, in an over and under look, grasping each other’s belt. Ike gave up a long, tough opening bout to Russia’s Bair Omoktuev.

Watching all of these Traditional Styles, I have been impressed with the caliber of the athletes. No doubt these are ‘Men’s Men’, very strong, willing to grind. Many are folk heroes, in their own cultures. But I noticed, early on, none of them have Wrestling Ears.

Actually, I’ve counted four who do. That’s four out of nearly 200 competitors, over all styles.

Looking back over the week, I realize that I’ve been a little slow to accept and to trust the purity of these historic styles. Now, I realize how much comfort we all draw, being around the iconic trademark of Olympic Wrestling… the ears.

Being one of those guys, myself, having pretty clean ears, I know it has taken a lot of effort to gain the trust of Wrestlers in each new setting. I’ve found myself being self-conscious about lacking this ‘Badge of Honor’. Maybe I didn’t compete long enough. Certainly, I did not reach the highest level. It might be a benefit of big, soft tissue ears.

Absent this visible signal of instant credibility, it can be a little rough gaining trust and respect. This is true in both the Coaching and Refereeing arenas of Olympic Wrestling. The upside is that, once you’ve earned that trust, it’s easy to maintain. It simply requires sincerity and honesty.

I have achieved one of my chief goals, on this trip. I’ve been able to open my mind and spirit, to many cultures I had never had the fortune to experience. I appreciate the mission of the Nomad Universe organizers, to promote and maintain the dignity of indigenous cultures and their presentation, through sport.

And, I’m not so self-conscious about my ears, anymore.

Ciao

Today's Photo: Team Leader Rusty Davidson at Opening Ceremonies

MARCH 15:  Bronze for Ike Okoli

The weather was better, today. The wind was down and there were no traces of the rain that sent us home early, last night. It was, though, a little muggy.

We left the hotel an hour early, to make up the competition we missed. I’ve tallied it up. In the last seven days, we have logged just over 34 hours on the bus.

Today, though, was one of those that makes ‘The Juice Worth the Squeeze’. We knocked down TWO Bronze Medal performances. Roy Sims, of northern California, earned his third place in Mongolian Bokh. Ike Okoli, of Spokane, battled his way to third in the Turkmen Goresh.

Sims easily won his first two bouts, versus: Daniel Ostapenco, Moldova; and Robertson Tores, Philippines. He was defeated, in the semis, by eventual silver medalist Bair Omoktuev, Russia. Mogolia’s Anar Dorj took home the seven-foot tall wooden trophy. (Good Luck getting that on the plane !)

Okoli turned in impressive performances, along his path to the semifinals. He defeated Ivan Masakwe, of Uganda; Anatolie Moldovan, of Moldova; and Giorgi Kobaidze, of Georgia, with a brilliant combination of strategy and power.

Ike was narrowly defeated, 2 – 1, in the semis, by Turkmenistan’s Annamyrat Myradov, the eventual champion. The match with Okoli was Myradov’s only real challenge of the day. Goresh being Myradov’s native style, he was a heavy favorite to win it all.

“This was fun. I’m happy now”, said the soft-spoken Okoli. “I get one more chance, tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes.” Saturday, Ike is scheduled to compete in the Kyrgyz Korash event, another form of Belt Wrestling.

All of the Belt events are similar is demand. Each brings the tradition of its particular nomadic region. Variations is uniform, belt material and grip are thee only visible differences from style to style.

Last night finished with “Opening Ceremonies”. This component had been postponed, one week, in hopes of rectifying, what has turned out to be, the major problem of these games.

I have recently learned, straight from the event’s Chief Organizer’s mouth, that a total of 200 participants were left, at their airport of origin, with tickets that had been voided. The United States’ Gabe Beauperthuy was one of those affected. Beauperthuy has, twice, been named USA Wrestling’s Athlete of the Year, in the Associated Styles.

I continue to push for transparency, regarding the voided tickets and subsequent breakdown of communication. While I appreciate the ‘Big Boss’ taking the time to look me in the eye and talk me through this tragic turn of events, I’m still unclear where the decision was made. I am intent on pushing my way through to a complete answer.

Until then, we have to do what Wrestlers do… control what we have control over. Ike opens, tomorrow, against the Russian. Showtime! Ciao.

March 14: The Answer, My Friend...

Man, I had it all planned out. As we sat through our first, major league, Saudi dust storm, today, I calculated a long list of things we’ve seen and learned here. I came up with an even longer list of things we need to see and learn.

So, I got the lyrics to the 1960’s Bob Dylan song going, in my head. I was gonna’ work, too.

I followed my routine and got the first seat on the first bus, leaving town. We got to the Camel Festival and sat in the huge lunch tent, for a couple of hours, realizing we were not just the First bus… we were the Only bus.

Generally, we leave the hotel around 11:00 and get to the tent about 1:30. We get the day’s brackets, for two events, around 3:00 and start competition close to 4:00. That gets us on busses, back to Riyadh, between 8:00 and 10:00.

Not today. The other bus loads finally rolled in around 3:30. We were told that, no matter the wind, competition must go on in two styles: Mongol Bokh and Gushtini Mill Kamarbandi. (Memorize those names !)

I spent the next hour, watching two guys desperately attempt to keep the mat covers on our four outdoor mats. Shame on me for sayin’, but one more guy could’ve made it a great ‘Three Stooges’ episode.

We started Gushtini, about 5:00. At 5:45 we were all rushed into nearby Yurts, for half an hour, as the worst of the dust-storm rolled through. I learned to make a face shield, by repositioning the neck hole of a T-shirt and tying it around my head.

We finished the semi-finals of Gushtini, about 7:30, and began the switch to Mongol Bokh. The wind had dropped to about 20mph, which was a relief. I was feeling pretty good about how I might fit our experiences, over the last week, into the rhythmical, lyrical pattern of Dylan’s famous song. All our ‘Answers’ are, just like Dylan said, ‘Blowin in the Wind’.

Just then… in the middle of the Arabian desert, it happened. The sky opened. We got RAINED OUT! Ciao.

March 13: Finally... a handshake

We’ made our fifth trip, from hotel to the Camel Club, today. The two and a half hour bus-ride, each way, makes it seem like we’ve been here a decade.

Today, though, was one of those that all athletes and coaches cherish. We were on our way, not to drill, not to sight-see, not to observe other events, but to compete.

I must say, how infinitely I am impressed with Ike Okoli’s preparation. Ike is a physical specimen. He’s obviously got years of intense physical development in the bank. I know, for a fact, what Ike has invested in preparation for this event, since Christmas.

What I admire most, though, is Ike’s mental preparation. He’s kind of a quiet guy… very introspective. His ability to focus is top-notch. He drives himself to excellence in even the tiniest detail. And, when it’s all done, he records every movement, whether mistake or profit, and goes back to work.

Competing in Freestyle Alysh (Belt Wrestling, with Shirt and Trousers), Ike wrestled well, today. He won his first bout, handily, against Sudrajat Edi of Indonesia. In Ike’s second bout, Vladims Lando, of Latvia, came from behind to win. There were 36 contestants in the bracket.

Another American, Roy Sims, competed today in the Korean Ssireum event. This style looks a lot like Sumo, with a belt around the waist and one thigh. Athletes must remain engaged. Roy is an accomplished American Sumo champion, from northern California. He competes for the United States, under the banner of a separate organization.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings. We have two more Traditional Wrestling Styles scheduled. However, we are expecting a severe wind storm. That could change things.

Speaking of storms, we understand that the northern plains and Midwest are in the middle of a significant blizzard. I hope our friends and family are staying safe and warm.

Ciao.

March 12: Carrying the Load
 

Today’s competition started with the Strong-Man group competing in “Carrying a Heavy Object”. The heavy object was a canvas bag, filled with 110kg (242 lbs) of sand. The bag had to be lifted, hugged to the chest (not over the shoulder), then carrying along a 50 meter track. The winner navigated the track, up and back, then started his third trip… totaling 112 meters.

Wrestling competition began today, causing Ike and me to have to “Carry our own Load”. Gabe (Beauperthuy) was in both brackets, today: Gyulesh and Classic Alysh. Hung up with, what the Organizers call “Ticketing Difficulties”, Gabe is still in the States. I made the effort to greet each of Gabe’s opponents, in the center of the mat, and express my apologies for Gabe’s absence.

Part of this was down-home simple: It seemed right to honor Gabe’s opponents, with a handshake and an explanation. Part of it was to make a point, captured on video, to the organizers. I want them to have to answer some hard questions about how some athletes got stranded.

I know, from having discussed this with the Argentine Delegation Leader, that Gabe is not the only athlete stranded. Both Argentina and Peru have Two, each, in the same situation. I saw text messages, sent to the Argentine, explaining that at least 50 athletes, globally, are still waiting.

I’m not throwing this stuff out there, just to whine or make this a downer. But, I do think this is a situation that demands public scrutiny. I understand that the host organization is paying a big dime for all of us to be here. But, that being said, the notions of equity, transparency, and accountability among National Federations and their Athletes, seems a mandate.

On a positive note, I want to throw a “Southern Plains” Shout Out to Hayden Stephens, from St Louis. Hayden and his family live in Riyadh. He read about the Camel Festival Wrestling on TheMat.com, so he and his Dad visited, today. Hayden will be back home to compete in the Southern Plains Championship, in June.

Wrestling Makes the World Small! Ciao

Today's Photo of Gyulesh Wrestling by Gentry Stephens

March 11 - Just a hop, skip and a jump

Got to see something new, today… there’s a shock ! We had an exhibition event called YAKUT JUMPING. The easiest way to picture this is to blend your Middle School PE contests and your Family Picnic. It starts out, looking like Triple Jump, but counts to Seven.

There are actually three contests: Jumping on One Leg, Alternating Legs, Jumping on Both Legs. In each, the goal is the same. The athlete begins at a starting line (you can have a running start), jumps forward in the designated style SIX times, then sticks a final landing on BOTH feet. The total distance covered is measured and recorded.

All of the Wrestlers, from all disciplines were invited and most participated. A couple of the very biggest guys shied away, fearing knee damage.

Ike Okoli, USA, always the trooper, Hopped Right In (pun intended). Ike was a successful Tight End, in High School, and a punishing Fullback, in College. He has been on the Podium in several different styles of Wrestling. It is my sad duty to report that Ike Okoli officially stinks at Yakut Jumping !

Some little, skinny dude… goes about a buck-forty… I think from Tadjikistan, won it. He got a $500 prize. Ike got a trip to the Rodeo.

We wandered down, to the other end of the Camel Festival, hung out with our new American friends for a while, then watched them compete in one of their Bull Riding performances. Good Fun! Ciao

March 10 - Cowboy Hats

Competition began, today, in all three Zones of the Nomad Games. We are, obviously, in the Wrestling Zone. The Hippodrome Zone is the giant arena, where the ceremonies were held last night. It is home to all equestrian, archery and hunting events. The Intellectual Zone is indoors. It hosts a variety of logic based competitions.

We had Mas Wrestling, today. The only American in this competition is Michael Stroozas. Mas Wrestling is more of a strong-man deal than a combative art. Two big guys are seated across from each other, their feet posted against a 2X12 plank. Each take hold of a large dowel. On the referee’s command, each tries to upend their opponent, or take the stick. It’s sort of a Tug-of War look.

Each bout happens very quickly. I didn’t see a bout last 30 seconds. Athletes from 47 countries participated. After pool competition, the finalists were from Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

During a break, a few of us visited the Hippodrome. We watched a couple of teams practicing Kok-Boru. That’s the game that looks like Polo, with a dead goat. (If you ever watched Rambo III, you saw it.)

We also got to watch a couple of guys practice Horseback Wrestling. It’s everything you’re picturing. The best part is watching the well-trained horses help their riders. The fight takes place in a chalked ring and, best I can tell, they don’t have a step-out rule.

Just as practice was finishing, we looked up and saw over twenty young guys come in, wearing Western Style straw hats. They had to be American !

And they are. Introducing ourselves, we learned that this company of American Professional Bullriders were contracted by the Saudi Royals to perform throughout the Camel Festival. The Royal Family purchased 57 professional bulls and had them shipped to Riyadh.

These guys were excited to find us. They’ve been here since February 23rd and we’re the first Americans they’ve seen. The entire group seem like really solid young men, using their athletic abilities to experience the world’s cultural landscape… Bravo!

A few of the cowboys pulled me off to the side. They are interested in studying and training in Wrestling. It seems they have heard PBR World Champ, Jess Lockwood, brag about the crossover between Wrestling and Bullriding. Nice to hear!

Still no Gabe, but we’re still working on a solution. Gotta’ sleep ! Ciao.

March 9th -Orientation Day in Saudi Arabia

I’m gonna’ do my best to keep my chin up and describe our first day. I’m cranky, though. It’s not the time difference… or the food… or the people… or the bus ride.

I’m angry and frustrated because Gabe Beauperthuy is still waiting for a valid ticket, so he can get here. Something went wrong, and I can’t find anyone to fix it. I finally got to meet, face to face, with the chief organizer, this afternoon. He’s a nice enough guy, a young man from Kyrgyzstan. I know he’s got a lot on his plate. But, I keep being told, “He’s the only one who can fix this”, and it’s not getting fixed. We have to get Gabe on a plane, and we have to do it soon.

OK, enough whining. Ike and I did learn a lot today. We learned that times, especially times when the busses are going to run, are moving targets. Once we finally did get rolling, today, it was a little over a two hour drive, out into…literally… the middle of the desert.

Once there, though, we found a huge complex of temporary buildings. There are cafeteria tents, catering, even what they call ‘The Nomad Hotel’. There’s a huge arena for the hunting and horseback competition. There are a couple of good sized concert shells. The Wrestling area holds four raised mats, completely unsheltered. Oh, yeah, and the wind blew all day !

We got to watch the Falconers archers and dog-hunters practice. We had demonstrations of all the various forms of Traditional Wrestling. We turned in our paperwork, entering as many Wrestling artforms as they would allow us.

It seems that we (Ike and Gabe, when he gets here) are limited to competing in only those styles recognized and sanctioned by United World Wrestling. Apparently, there are other sanctioning bodies for some of the styles. Because we represent USA Wrestling and, therefore UWW, it feels like we’re being a bit shunned by some styles.

We will keep working on that part. Having discussed it with Ike, we agree that the two of us have zero interest in the politics of legitimizing these ancestral styles. Our mission is to be the Americans who came to compete, to honor global cultures, and be the guys having fun and building relationships.

Oops, I got preachy again.

The opening ceremonies, tonight, were abbreviated, due to the extreme desert cold. They say it won’t be as bad, the next few nights. The ceremonies were well done, though. There were literally hundreds of performers in the arena, with a high-tech video wall in the background. We had horses and camels and yaks and one poor goat. We had archers and lancers and people on fire. All this was well choreographed to tell the history of the Kyrgysh Nomadic experience, over the last 2,000 years.

There are, truly, a lot of very good people here. I have to get up, in a few hours, and resume my battle to make Gabe Beauperthuy one of them. Ciao.

Today's Photo
: Ike Okoli helps his new FALCON friend train for upcoming competition at the World Nomad Games. Photo by Rusty Davidson.

March 8th - Real takes on another definition

Two thirds of us are checked into a hotel in Riyadh. After being excited that we finally got last minute airline tickets, we hit a snag. Gabe got to the Denver airport, only to find that his itinerary had been VOIDED.

We are operating under the notion that this was an inadvertent error. Hopefully, someone just hit a wrong key. I have calls in, to our organizer, Belek Unsenbekov, from Kyrgyzstan. I know he’s here, in Riyadh, but nobody can locate him. Jamie, with National Teams, is doing everything in her power to help. Gabe is waiting to drive back to Denver.

I thought, for a while, that I had lost Ike, too. He ended up the last person to get on the plane, in Frankfurt. He had a tight connection, compounded by having to change terminals and go through “Additional” security. But, we got two of here.

The three bus-loads of participants waited in the airport parking lot, for a couple of hours, then rode another hour and a half to a hotel. After about 45 minutes waiting in line, we learned that the hotel was full. So, Ike and I followed a guy, dragging our stuff through the late-night streets of Riyadh, to another hotel.

This hotel is also full, so we got what’s called an “Executive” room. Yeah, right ! That means we have a mattress on the floor, next to the single bed. Ike and I fought for sleeping rights. Needless to say… I got the Baby Bed.

It’s 1:00am, and I’ve gotta’ get back to work on getting Gabe here, early in the morning. So, that’s it for now. Ciao.

March 7th - It's real now... We're going

As Gary pointed out, in his Editorial Note, we DID get itineraries, Monday night and learned that we fly Thursday. So, after two and a half months of preparation, a two week delay and worrying up to the last minute, here we go.

There’s a lot to appreciate, in this. Ike is Military. His Commander has been patient and generous, in working with our changes in schedule. Gabe is self-employed. He has been able to work with his clients, not to mention his family, to make this work. I’m fortunate that I work for a Principal who ‘Gets It’ (and was a successful collegiate Wrestler). He understands that I’m getting to actually Live a big chunk of the Human Geography course I teach.

Throughout the stress of the Waiting Game, I have learned to better appreciate what USA Wrestling’s National Teams Program goes through. I know Cody (Bickley), Jamie (McNab), and our Coaching Staff deal with schedule changes, personnel changes, and re-routing on every tour and training camp. Having watched their protocol and procedure grow, I tip my hat to their professionalism.

Our Associated Styles Committee has been nothing but supportive… since day one. This group, chaired by North Carolina’s Ed Duncan, looks after the interests of many different styles… referred to as ‘Developing’ or ‘Traditional’. The day we got invited to this Ethno-Festival, our committee, along with Staff Liaison Gary Abbott, were On It.

Of course, waiting until three days out, to book, the three of us did not get the same itinerary. Ike flies out of Spokane. Gabe lives in Colorado Springs, but can also fly out of Denver. My home airport is Albuquerque. My original request, in January, had the three of us meeting in Chicago, then flying together into Riyadh, with a change in Amman, Jordan. Nope !

Gabe will leave Denver and change in Chicago and Abu Dhabi. Ike leaves Spokane for Denver, then goes Frankfurt, Riyadh. I leave Albuquerque for Chicago, and meet up with Ike in Frankfurt. Ike and I get into Riyadh, a couple of hours ahead of Gabe.

We should get to a hotel around 1:00 Saturday morning. Of course, we have no clue What Hotel ! We’ll sleep, a few hours, get up, get credentialed, get fed and get going.

From what we’re told, we’ll be spending between four and five hours, a day, on a bus. (That’s OK… it’s only ten days in a row !). It seems the competition venues are about 180km outside Riyadh, in the desert.

Our first night of competition features Horseback Wrestling, Archery, Falcons and Eagles, Sheep and Goats. Oh, and there’s Arm Wrestling and Tug-of War. We’re not exactly sure which events our two guys will be invited to compete in. But, I assure you, we’ll be ready.

So, we’ll be learnin’ while we’re burnin’. I’ll keep you posted. Gotta’ sleep, a little. We fly tomorrow. Ciao.

March 5th
- How do I explain this? I love to blog and tell stories that bind Wrestling with Life. While it’s been over five years since I had the pleasure, I look forward to sharing another unique Wrestling adventure with you.

Still… How do I explain this particular adventure? Three of us, Gabe Beauperthuy, Ike Okoli and I have been selected to represent the United States in an event with a lot of names. For starters, this is the 2019 World Nomad Games. It’s being held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in conjunction with a thing called the World Ethno Festival. And, if that’s not enough, it’s all held under the banner of the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival.

So… we (USA Wrestling) got notice on Monday. December 17th, that our nation could have a total of three representatives (Two Athletes, One Team Leader/Coach) represent our culture in this event with a huge title and big expectations.

The catch was that we all had to have all our Passport and Visa information submitted, within two days, and that the selections would be finalized December 20th. I hurried to get my paperwork submitted.

The athlete selection was a little more compartmentalized. Our two had to be in the upper portion of the “Unlimited” category… Big Guys. That made it reasonable for USA Wrestling’s Associated Styles Committee to choose Ike Okoli and Gabe Beauperthuy, clearly our two most successful contributors in all the Associated Styles.

As Team Leader / Coach, I got to compete against some great ones. USA Wrestling has some really good people, highly qualified, representing us in all of these so-called Associated Styles. For me to be selected was, and is, one of the great honors of my career.

So… off we go! Gabe, Ike, and I set forth, in preparation for a World Class event, scheduled to begin February 23rd. We developed our training to compete in a total of varieties of Wrestling’s ‘Traditional Styles’. We were actually doing things like, “Hooking up to Trucks, with Trailer Hitches”, and pulling ‘em backwards. I assure you, we were Ready to Go.

At the last minute, we received notice that the ‘Camel Festival’ had been postponed. We were originally scheduled to travel February 21st. The new Schedule has us leaving the States, either March 6th or 7th.

It seems that the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia is paying for all of this. That said, our ‘Organizer’, representing the World Nomad Games, is a guy in Kyrgyzstan. As of Saturday, March 2, we still did not have airline itineraries, which is a little scary.

Google some of these Traditional Styles of Wrestling: Gyulesh; Alysh; Ssireum; Gushtini; Mongolian Bokh; Sambo; Goresh; Kurash; Kyrgyz Kurosh. These are the styles we will be competing in, over a period of 10 days. Oh ! Don’t forget to add Arm Wrestling, Tug of War, and a thing called Mas-Wrestling.

The thing is, we got the right two guys. Gabe and Ike have proven themselves, over the last decade, not just as Big, tough guys, but as true adventurers, willing to try anything that falls under the banner of Wrestling. I’ve been on four Continents with these two. I can tell you, they’re men who simply Love what Wrestling stands for.

So, before I end this introduction piece, I have to share some of the non-wrestling events we’re gonna’ get to witness. I have to start with “Hunting… with a Falcon; with a Golden Eagle; with a Taigan Dog”. Next, include “Running with a Sheep; Saddling a Horse; Riding a Horse with a Goat”. I’m serious!

There will be lots of Archery. Standing, seated, kneeling archery. Acrobatic Archery. Archery from moving horseback.

There is an entire component, referred to as the “Traditional Intellectual Games.” I guess the fact that I can’t even imagine what that means probably disqualifies me from competing in it. My closest friends already knew that!

But, here’s what I think might be the coup de gras: Horseback Wrestling ! Even old and crippled, I’m telling you, I’ll take my shot if I get it. I think this is the real me. Somehow, I think Coach Zadick might want to give this a try, too. Just sayin’ !

More, soon… Ciao.

Editor’s Note: The itineraries arrived, so this adventure will continue.