Former SEAL brings battle to U mats

Sarah Mitchell

Gophers redshirt freshman Steve Bartlett has no problem sharing his wrestling philosophy — consistency, hard-work and patience. But the former Navy SEAL, is not so willing to talk when it comes to revealing his military run-ins.
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” said a joking Bartlett, who later added, “If we did the job right, you’d never know that we’d been there.”
After a six-year hiatus from the sport, the 24-year-old, who labeled himself as “a decent high school wrestler,” made a bold move back to the mat.
Forget all the scuba diving in pitch black water with nothing but a compass to lead the way. Bartlett has been handed an equally challenging mission as he enters the Gophers wrestling room twice a day to practice with the No. 2 team in the nation.
“Wrestling is just something I’ve always thought was unfinished business,” Bartlett said. “The guys here have been real patient with me.”
A Racine, Wis., native, Bartlett graduated from high school in 1992 feeling that more schooling was not in his best interests. Instead the 17-year-old joined the Navy, after convincing his concerned mother to sign a consent form.
Without so much as a hunting history, Bartlett left home with dreams of becoming a SEAL. After about a year and a half of training, Bartlett officially earned the rank.
“At first my mom thought I actually trained seals, like at Sea World,” Bartlett said. “I didn’t want her to worry more than she already was, so I said, `Yes, Mom, I train seals.'”
Bartlett spent five years in the Navy. During three of those years he was joined by his older brother Paul. The two were stationed in San Diego until mission time arrived. At that time, Bartlett’s team was deployed to Southeast Asia.
“It’s a powerful, intense kind of life to lead. `Cool under fire’ is a good way to put it,” Bartlett said. “You’re either jumping out of a plane, blowing things up or shooting weapons.”
Doing these stunts often put Bartlett’s life at stake. Unlike the movies portray, however, Bartlett said the most dangerous part of being a SEAL is the training. By the time it’s necessary to carry out the mission, the team has the tactics down pat.
“I think Hollywood has glamorized the job more than any SEAL wants it to be,” Bartlett said. “You don’t do it for the mystique. You do it because you are not a quitter.”
Upon deciding to leave the stress of military life behind, Bartlett moved to an equally high-strung environment — the Minnesota wrestling room. Bartlett basically stepped onto the mat cold turkey, having no wrestling experience since his final year of high school.
“I talked to him and I wasn’t quite sure what he was getting himself into,” Gophers coach J Robinson said. “But having been a SEAL, he has that bond, the mentality and the strength needed to wrestle.”
In his first season, knee and ankle injuries have limited Bartlett’s mat time. But the political science major, who admits to being a Jesse Ventura supporter, said he is not modeling his life after Minnesota’s governor. He’s satisfied with being a contender two or three years down the road.
“I know what it takes to excel now,” Bartlett said. “It defined my whole life.”