Mark Ryzewicz is a successful orthopedic surgeon in Cody, Wyoming. His Staples High School wrestling days are long behind him.
But the 1991 state open finalist remembers his days as a Wrecker fondly. So — when the call went out recently for fundraising help — he responded quickly, gladly and generously.
He was not alone. A dozen other former grapplers sent their own very generous checks.
Just as importantly, they sent emails. With passion, emotion and great gratitude, they described what the sport did for them in their formative years.
The individuality of wrestling — a physical loss is very personal, but you come back tougher and better for the experience, develop resilience and ultimately — was important, Ryzewicz wrote.
So was the team aspect. Every member helps every other wrestler improve. Even an inexperienced athlete who avoids a pin can save enough points so the entire squad ekes out a victory.
Camaraderie develops through the intimate process of winning, losing, training, being physically beaten, gaining strength and confidence.
Ryzewicz notes that “in terms of socioeconomic, class and body type,” no sport is as diverse as wrestling. Success comes from “taking what you have, then figuring out how to make the most of it” — with, of course, the help of teammates and coaches.
Ryzewicz used the lessons of resilience and teamwork learned on the Staples mats well. First, after Stanford University — where he continued wrestling — he worked for several years as a cowboy on a 100,000-plus-acre Wyoming ranch.
Then he went to medical school. Residency involved 100-hour work weeks or more. He had personal struggles.
But the principles were the same: Don’t quit. Work hard. Find teammates to help him succeed.
In Cody, Ryzewicz’s operating room runs using a “wrestling teamwork model.” When his 6-year-old began wrestling recently — and earned a 5th-place ribbon — the former Staples wrestler drove him home, and reflected on the sport.
With the sun setting over the prairie, and sagebrush passing by, Ryzewicz thought about the impact his coaches and teammates had on his life.
So when Terry Brannigan — another Staples grappling alum, who still lives here and whose own sons also wrestle — put out the call for help, the response was natural.
Brannigan is a founder of the Staples Mat Men. The parent group wants to “relaunch” the program. They hope to bring it back to the days of packed gyms, state tournament contenders, and dozens of athletes sweating, training, learning the same lessons that served Ryzewicz, Brannigan (and Jamie Breen, Pete Cahill, Zach Cahill, Adam Lau, Dave Santella, Ryan Sorley, Ken Shubin Stein, Ryan Thomas, Greg Torok and so many others — all coached by Nick Garoffolo) so well.
Brannigan — hearkening back to Garoffolo’s own mentors, Saul Pollack and John Chacho — is glad that the lifelong friendships and valuable lessons he learned on the mat will be experienced by his own 3 sons. (TJ is already an excellent junior on the team.)
He’s worked steadily for 2 years to help a program that had fallen on hard times: low numbers, several coaches, without a wrestling room to call its own.
New coach Fred Mills — a veteran of the famed Danbury program — is excited to help bring the program to the next level.
Earlier this month, Brannigan contacted some of the “kids” he and Garoffolo coached 25 years ago. He asked for help, funding things like extra assistant coaches, clinics and more. “What happened next is remarkable,” he says.
Emails, texts and phone calls cascaded in. Checks, too. (One alum said, “I’m traveling but can wire it if you need it right now.”)
Zach Cahill wrote, “the wrestling community made it feel like what we were doing as young athletes really mattered. It was an enormous advantage to have that kind of support. It is a gift I carry with me to this day.”
Not one of those former wrestlers — except Brannigan — lives in Westport.
That didn’t matter.
When one wrestler asked, they came through — no questions asked.
If the current Staples wrestling team is anything like its storied predecessors, the future looks bright indeed.