KINGSTON — There are 86,400 seconds in a day.
For the members of the Vandit Wrestling Academy, at least 7,200 seconds are spent training nightly to be the best.
In their final two-hour practice for 23 members selected to go to the Reno World’s Championship, it was intense as the team prepared to test their mettle against 3,000 other contestants in the most prestigious youth wrestling event in the country.
Although looks may be deceiving, victory doesn’t come easy at the Kingston-based academy. The walls lining the small space at the training facility were adorned with mats, climbing ropes and metals. Motivational quotes like the one in the back of the room read, “A champion is someone who gets up — even when he can’t.”
Although seemingly young individuals, these were athletes committed to the sport. In addition to hard trainings at the facility, they ran at home and cut out junk food. Some travel from Sequim and Snoqualmie to train with the Kingston team.The team that took third in state last year spent the last year preparing — training each night as a team for hours as well as attending workshops and summer camps.
At the final practice before Reno World’s, they opened with a “warm up” of rope climbing, running stairs, core exercises, and sprinting.
“Position, patience, control — we’ve been living by it all year long,” head coach Bobby Reece said. “You gotta get low. This is the last [time] to make you and your partner better.”
The intensity in the room grew as Reece cheered his wrestlers on. The wrestlers tested their strength and pushed their limits on the mat. Beads of sweat pooled on the floor as they ramped up their vigor.
“I treat these 7-year-olds like 18-year olds,” Reece said. “It’s tough in here. The only way to survive in this sport is to be honest, and I’m honest with my kids. They literally go to war for us and it’s awesome.”
At the Vandit Wrestling Academy lessons like commitment, dedication, work ethic and perseverance came to mind for Reece as he explained the family that surrounds this high-intensity sport.
“It’s my passion,” he said. “More than anything, training teaches those life lessons that come through this sport.
We have some great kids and families but most important we have great parents. We all share the same vision — without the parents these kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to Reno World’s.”
As the team worked on strength, tactical and team building exercises, Reece pushed for better results.
“I see their potential,” he said. “The closer they get the harder I push — and they run to the bell.”
Reece said last week he challenged them by saying “You’re just not tough enough.” Three days later, they were stronger and more determined.
“Flip it over,” he called out. “Three — two — one — wrestle, wrestle, wrestle!”
Dawson Anderson, 7, took third place last year. As a current holder of the state championship title, he said he’s ready.
Carson Hoffine, 17, felt the same way. As a wrestler since seventh grade, the Ellensberg resident commutes to Vandit to practice with the team.
As he prepares to wrestle in the 160-weight division, he said he should do well because of his preparation.
“You have to find something to keep you going,” he said. “For me, it’s I don’t want to loose.”
Hoffine placed fourth overall.
Bobby Gomez, the 12-year-old son of Vandit Wrestling Academy owner, Robert Gomez, has been wrestling at Reno World’s for four years.
“Last year, I didn’t do so well, but this year I want it a lot more,” he said. “Your hard work gets paid off.”
This year, he received his first win of his Reno World’s wrestling career, placing sixth in the nation.
His father, Robert,said he and his wife cried.
“To go back four years in a row without a win … most kids give up after a few years. This is a kid that hasn’t has a candy bar or a potato chip in three months. He practiced for four hours a night and still kept straight As.”
To celebrate his success, Gomez went to In-N-Out Burger and ordered french fries, burgers and a strawberry shake.
Reece acknowledged the team’s commitment to hard work.
“I tell you these kids are special, this family is special. It takes a special person to walk through that door. It’s not about a trophy or one of those metals, those are great moments [they’ll] remember for the rest of [their] life. When you can commit and respond like a champion then you’re prepared.”
Gomez expressed his delight in the team’s continued success.
“For me, it’s incredible that I can take 23 kids to the toughest tournament in the nation for youth wrestling and only four didn’t win,” he said. “I’m so happy for North Kitsap that we have something in place to build up wrestling in this community, it was missing for a while.”
“We expect to win, but through the work here, the championships have already been won. We’ve already got the reward of going to Reno from the training.”