My name is JD Rader. If you’re a regular reader of the TheMat.com, you have probably seen my name under some articles. I’ve had the pleasure of interning this spring and summer at USA Wrestling, However, I am still a member of the University of Nebraska Kearney (UNK) wrestling team.
Every four years, the UNK wrestling team goes on an international trip to do some training and sightseeing. This year we got to go to France and Greece. That is why I’m writing this blog; to give anyone curious (hi Mom) a look into our trip and hopefully encourage other college teams to give opportunities like this for their athletes.
My initial intention was to update this blog daily or every other day. However, a combination of having a busy itinerary, enjoying my time with my friends, and lack of quality internet led me making one big recap at the end instead.
I know this makes it extremely long, but hopefully at least a couple people find it worth the read or at least look at the pictures.
Also before beginning I need to give a huge thank you to George Kaltchev of georgecamps.com who put this trip together for us. Check out his website for more information about his camp tours.
Everyone not in Kearney for the summer traveled back on Tuesday so we could get on a bus Wednesday morning and ride to Omaha to catch our first flight to Atlanta. After a four-hour layover, we hopped on our second flight of the trip. Eight-and-a-half hours later, we were in Paris.
In front of the Eiffel Tower
After a long train ride to our hotel, everyone dropped off their bags, brushed their teeth, and changed their clothes. No time to shower. It was already 2 p.m. and we were only spending one day and night in Paris. We had to make the most of it.
Right away we took the subway to the Eiffel Tower. This required getting on and off of several trains. Some of us were better than others at this. At one stop two of us (Matt and Nick) were not able to get off of the train in time and went on to the next stop.
Luckily, the two of them were smart enough to figure out how to get to the Eiffel Tower on their own. They decided maybe it was better to walk and asked people on the street to point them in the right direction.
After taking all of the obligatory tourist pictures at the Eiffel Tower, we split up for a couple hours. Some of us went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and some of us walked around the city for a bit and found some food.
At about 5:30 p.m. we met back up and walked to the Arc de Triomphe. Once there we split back up. Some of us went off and got a bite to eat (some of the food items included escargot, food cart crepes, and steak tartare), some went to shops to buy clothes and souvenir, and some made the hike to the top of Arc de Triomphe.
The number of stairs it took to get to the top of the Arc had some of us second guessing if it was going to be worth it. However, the 360 degree view from the center of Paris made it well worth it.
At 7:30 we met back up and walked to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica and the surrounding region where we were on our own for the rest of the night.
In order to make our early flight to Athens we had to leave the hotel at 6:30 a.m. This was harder for some of us than others.
Fast-forward a couple hours and we touch down in Athens. After getting our check luggage from Omaha and waiting for Demos to get the wallet he left on the plain back, we hopped on a bus to take us to the hotel.
The outside of Atlas Kallitheas Wrestling Club, our training facility in Athens
Right away everyone noticed the insane amount of graffiti. It’s everywhere. However, similar to America, it’s not exactly looked highly upon to graffiti things. When I asked Greek people why there was so much I got a variety of answers. The Greek people are very vocal and expressive people. A lot of people just want to vandalize. The country and city don’t have enough money in the budget to paint over it.
Similar to Paris, we dropped off our bags and the hotel and immediately headed out. This time to our training facility for practice.
Our hotel bathrooms in Athens
Before heading out however, everyone noticed the showers. Handheld shower head, small corner shower, and no shower curtain. Yes, the bathrooms did get extremely wet.
At this time we were also joined by three Argentinean wrestlers and their coach. The heavyweight (Luciano Del Rio) was this year’s silver medalist at Pan Am Championships. He lost to Adam Coon in the finals. And the 65 kg wrestler (Agustin Destribats) was this year’s bronze medalist at the Pans as well as a Cadet and Junior World team member for Argentina. A couple of great additional training partners!
We worked out at Atlas Kallitheas Wrestling Club, the top wrestling club in Athens. This club is home to several current and former Cadet and Junior World Team members for Greece. A lot of wrestlers in Greece stop competing once they are older because even if they are good, the financial opportunities aren’t there.
The Greek love a good warm up, then technique, and then some live (or fight as they call it).
Interestingly enough, when they had us wrestle live, if you get taken down you immediately get back up. We didn’t wrestle live par terre until a 30 second par terre go at the end of the live match go.
After practice we all take the metro back to the hotel (we either walked or took the metro everywhere in Athens) where we eat dinner. Everything seems to happen later in the day in Greece. By this point it was after 10 p.m., but not a strange time to be eating dinner.
Posing with the Acropolis of Athens in the background
We grabbed breakfast at the hotel before heading out at 9 a.m. We walked a long ways, making stops at the Roman Agora (the ancient market of Caesar and Augustus), Theatre of Dionysus (the world’s first ever theater), and Odeon of Herodes Atticus (a cool amphitheater that is still in use) before ending up at the Acropolis of Athens.
It was cool to be in a place so old, with so much history, that is still so magnificent.
I also randomly ran in to one of my high school classmates while at the Acropolis. I graduated with about 60 people in Jewell, Iowa. I don’t know what the odds of seeing one of those 60 people in Athens, Greece are, but I’m pretty sure they’re not great. Wild.
After making our way back down the hill the Acropolis sits on, we ate lunch. After the first day, we ate lunch and dinner at the same restaurant every day, Attalos Restaurant. This is a traditional Greek restaurant located in the Monastiraki district of Athens.
Here’s a link to their Facebook page to see pictures of some of the dishes we ate. Unless if your name is Jonny Killingsworth, almost all of it was great. Every meal came with Greek salad and bread with tzatziki sauce as an appetizer.
After lunch it was time for training. Everyone took the metro back to the hotel to pick up our gear and then to wrestling facility.
We were warned about pickpocketers on the metro, but it was still shocking the amount we encountered in just a couple days in Athens. Several of us caught people in the act and unfortunately one of them got to McCann without him noticing until it was too late.
This training session was a little more laid back. No fighting. We actually worked on the technique Sadulaev used to pin Snyder in the World finals last year. I’m not sure if that was them trolling us or not to be honest, but it was still fun.
After training, some us of stuck around to sauna with some of the foreigners and George told us old wrestling stories. George was a European champion and World silver medalist in the 80s, and loves to talk wrestling.
After training, everyone showered up before heading back to Attalos Restaurant for dinner.
Sitting on the steps of the Zappeion
We somehow managed to walk even farther on day five than we did on day four. We started out with a visit to the Zappeion. Then through the Athens National Garden which brought us to the Panathenaic Stadium.
Kurt, Trey, and McCann posing in the Panathenaic Stadium
The Panathenaic Stadium was truly incredible. We received a little telephone type things that took you on a tour, going however fast you wanted to. You just had to hit a button when you got to the next stop. Every stop told you some history of that part of the Stadium as well as how it was built and more. Hearing all of this while being in the exact spot really enhanced our experience.
After the Panathenaic Stadiuim, we walked up to one of the more expensive part of Athens, where doctors and lawyers live. On our way we passed a lot of police, some of them with assault rifles. It took us a minute and toning down the shenanigans to realize we were passing the place where all the foreign embassies were.
Walking through this part of town put us at the bottom of Mount Lycabettus, aka the highest point in Athens. There is a train that will take you to the top, but we were on the wrong side of the mountain, so we hoofed it all 910 feet above sea level of steep winding paths to the top. It was well worth it however (at least for most of us). The view from the top was incredible. You can see the whole city. There’s even a little chapel that sits on top.
Atop Mount Lycabettus with the city of Athens in the background
By the time we walked all the way back to the bottom of Mount Lycabettus and got to Attalos Restaurant for lunch, we were running late for training for training. And today was fight day (match day).
We knew we were each wrestling a couple live matches, but we were expecting it to be similar to a practice. We were wrong. Atlas Kallitheas Wrestling Club brought in electric scoreboards, wrestlers from other clubs, UWW officials, put spectators in the stands, and ran it similar to a tournament. We were announced to our mat and everything. This made us feel extra bad for being late.
Despite all of us being tired from all the travel, walking, and staying out late that we had done the past few days we wrestled really well. We won most of our matches. The highlight of the day came when Matt Malcom defeated a Greek National Team member in a crazy back-and-forth 17-15 match.
Before the finals of the tournament, there was about an hour break before wrestling picked back up. This gave us the opportunity to play games/try and communicate with the Greeks and Argentineans or catch up on some sleep by napping on the mat.
Match day inside Atlas Kallitheas Wrestling Club
Atlas then put on a little ceremony before the finals. May 19th is a national day of mourning and remembering the Pontian Greek Genocide that took place about 100 years ago. I would relate it to our 9/11.
Speakers talked about the history of the event and how America provided aid to Greece and how thankful they were then and how thankful they were to have us there on that day.
Then they showed us a traditional dance and even got Coach Jensen and a few others to join in while traditional music played through a speaker. Let me know if you want to see that video footage Brenda.
After the ceremony was over, it was time for the last few matches. During these matches a musician played a Cretan lyra through a speaker.
After the final matches, everyone got a medal and a certificate. The Greek people were very appreciative that we were there and could help boost their club.
After the fights, it was time to shower up and head to dinner before heading out for the night.
Getting a picture with the ferry we took both to and from Crete
On our fourth day in Athens we had a little bit more freedom. Our tour guide decided to take us to the beach while the coaches decided to explore the city of Athens a little more.
Although it was cloudy and not very warm, we still had a great time at the beach. We only had a couple hours, however. We had to be back at the hotel by 5:30 to get on a bus and head to the ferry to Crete.
Let me tell you, this ferry wasn’t no puppy. When describing it to us beforehand, George said “it’s like Titanic.” And it was. Multiple restaurants and bars, a pool, and sleeping rooms for four.
After about 8-9 hours on the ferry, we hit land in Heraklion, Crete and headed to our resort. That’s right, not a hotel this time, an all-inclusive resort.
Training in Crete
Once again, everyone dropped their bags off in their room and headed out. This time to beach about a five minute walk away.
With lunch at the resort only being from 12-2, we only had a little time at the beach before having to head back to lunch. No worries, however because our resort had a pool. After eating a delicious lunch from an all you can eat buffet of Greek food, everyone hung out by the pool before training at 6:30.
The facility and partner situation in Crete was a little more slim than in Athens. Most of the athletes who wrestled at this club were children because freestyle wrestling isn’t very popular in Crete. However, they did get some of their wrestlers who are now older and still train occasionally to come and workout with us.
After training it was time to head back to the resort for dinner (more all-you-can-eat delicious Greek food) and free time.
Beach wrestling at Havana Beach Bar
Day eight of the trip and day two in Crete started out with breakfast before heading out to explore the city. We took a bus to Old Town Heraklion before exploring the tourist attractions a little bit. Our stops included St. Titus Church, Koules Fortress, another traditional church, and the shops in the area.
By 1 p.m. it was time to head back for lunch and get ready for beach wrestling.
Coach Jensen attempting to wrestle our new Argentinean friend
It was about a 15 minute walk down the beach to reach Havana Beach Bar where we were wrestling. I’m not joking, a bar on the beach with some large sand pits on the side is where we wrestled. It was as awesome as it sounds. Random people were sitting at the bar watching us try and throw each other on our heads.
Everyone had fun playing in the sand and received another medal and certificate when it was over. We got all of the coaches to try it out, McCann included. Coach Jensen took on the Argentinean 65 kg wrestler. I’m not going to say who won, but I will say Jensen’s back was covered in sand after.
Then back to the resort for dinner and free time.
Tyler Cunningham jumping off one of the cliffs at Paliokastro Beach
On Thursday, we had the whole day to ourselves. Most of us took some cabs to Paliokastro Beach to go cliff jumping. This was awesome. The cliffs were high and the water was clearer than most in America.
Some of us hung back after cliff jumping and ate at a local restaurant in the little village a short walk from the beach and then walked up the surrounding mountain for several hours. The rest of us went back for the pool and dinner at the resort.
On this day the coaches decided to get on a boat and head to the island of Santorini. The rest of us didn’t go, but the pictures made us jealous.
"Relaxing" at the resort pool
Day 10 of the trip was our final day in Crete. Most of us spent it by the pool relaxing while some of us rented mopeds to explore the city and a few of us checked out the Cretan Labyrinth.
By 6 p.m. everyone was back to the hotel and it was another 9ish hour ferry ride back to Athens.
We made it back to Athens early in the morning and got on a bus back to our hotel. Almost all of us relaxed at the hotel before heading to lunch at 1:30 p.m. After lunch most of us walked around the city, exploring a little more and buying souvenirs before dinner at 8:30.
We had to leave the hotel at 3:30 a.m. the next day, so some of us headed right to bed after dinner while some of us decided to try and stay up and try and sleep on our flights back to America.
We made it to the airport in time to catch our early three-hour flight to Paris. After a four-hour layover in Paris, we boarded our nine-and-a-half hour flight to Atlanta. Five-hour layover in Atlanta and we get on our two-and-half hour flight to Omaha. Three hours on a bus and we’re finally back to Kearney.
That’s a long day of travel and most of us were ecstatic to be back to our family, friends, pets, and bed.
Put a group of 20+ college-aged boys together on an international trip and some dumb stuff is bound to happen. While a good portion of the dumb stuff we did can’t be included, this post wouldn’t be complete without some of it. While overseas we kept a running tally of the dumb stuff people did and called it the donkey list. You didn’t want to be anywhere near the top of the donkey list.
Some of the stuff that got people put on the donkey list included:
• Getting half a tattoo and not being able to get it finished because we had to leave Crete
• Forgetting a very expensive camera in the Paris airport
• Forgetting a phone in the Paris hotel
• Getting stitches from jumping into a sharp sign
• Having an elbow swell up to twice its normal size from wrestling in the hotel room
• Crashing a moped
• Breaking a blood vessel in an eye from getting hit in the eye
• Chipping a tooth from hitting it on a glass
What a trip.