BREMERTON — Sweat drips off foreheads onto the mat just as the buzzer sounds. Tired and sore, two sailors mentally prepare themselves for the task at hand. Their eyes are focused with clear minds ready to begin the next drill. The whistle blows. They wrestle like angry brothers trying to settle the age-old question of who is better.
Interior Communications Electrician 2nd Class Austin Craig from Monroe, North Carolina, and Culinary Specialist Seaman Derekston Williams from Macomb, Georgia, both assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), represent the ship as members of the All-Navy Wrestling Team, and one day hope to represent the United States in the Olympics.
Craig and Williams are good friends who do a lot together. They hang out, work out, practice and share a dream of one day being olympians.
They are sailors first and athletes second, which can make getting to practice some days tough, but both believe the hardship of being a sailor and an athlete will make achieving their goal possible.
“It means a lot to me to represent Nimitz on the All-Navy Wrestling Team,” said Williams. “I want to show people that you can be an exemplary sailor and a great athlete; it goes hand in hand. You have to be a hard worker in both aspects, and nothing is ever just given out for free.”
Being a sailor and an athlete is not taken lightly by those who have the title. Craig thinks it’s important to be a part of something bigger than yourself.
“I was the vice president of the Junior Enlisted Association aboard Nimitz, and I’m a command fitness leader,” said Craig. “They see me as an athlete, but I’m also a pretty good sailor. I have the mindset that if you put the time in and learn your rate, earn your qualifications and help others succeed, in turn, others will help you succeed.”
Craig and Williams’ success on and off the mat can be attributed to their attitude, although success didn’t come to Craig right away.
“The first year I tried out, I didn’t make the starting team,” said Craig. “In 13 years of wrestling, I’ve never wrestled as bad as I did that day. Coach [Alejandro] Delapena gave me some words of encouragement, and I made the team the second year, which is where I’ve been ever since. I’m thankful for that moment, as it was my turning point, and I became more focused than I ever was.”
Craig and Williams hope for good results from this year’s Open Wrestling Tournament, referred to as “nationals” by the wrestling community.
“Placing in nationals is key,” said Craig. “However, you don’t want to just place. You want to be an All-American. I have two months of practice to get everything together to make this year’s nationals a success.”
They’re determined to be All-Americans, which would mean being the best in the country. They both put in time and effort in hopes of eventually being the top of their respective weight classes.
“I was an All-American in high school,” said Williams. “I have unfinished business, and that is to become an All-American, but this time with the All-Navy Team. This would be a stepping stone to my Olympic dream, and I look forward to getting that gold alongside Austin Craig.”
Craig and Williams say they are working toward their goal of representing their country at the 2020 Olympics, but, for now, they’re proud to represent Nimitz and the Navy at nationals in April.
A thunderous thud silences the onlookers in the gym, and a scramble proceeds. Both Craig and Williams are back on their feet with no points scored by either. Within a second, they’re locked together like two bucks fighting over territory. Straining for position, a faint buzzer rings. They walk off the mat joking with one another, knowing today was another great practice on the hunt for Olympic gold.
— Story by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Jahnke.