Last Friday, I walked into the U.S. Pentagon with the Minnesota wrestling team during its trip to Washington.
As I browsed through a souvenir shop waiting for our tour to begin, I started my second conversation of the day with senior Matt Everson who, standing in the Department of Defense, told me that “his boss worked here.”
Slightly confused, I dug a little deeper to find that Everson was enlisted in the Army National Guard and was taking a year and a half away from school and wrestling to serve a tour of duty in Iraq.
To be honest with you, it kind of threw me off a bit.
I’ve of course heard of major league baseball players leaving to fight in World War II and Pat Tillman leaving the NFL to fight in Afghanistan, but never have I heard or read about a college athlete leaving to go to war.
Everson leaves Oct. 23 for Iraq and has mixed feelings about leaving to go fight for his country.
“It’s kind of hard, nobody ever is excited to spend their first tour in Iraq,” he said. “I’m a little scared, nervous, but on the other hand I’m proud to go and serve my country.”
And rightly so.
For someone nearing the end of his education and with a full year of wrestling to keep him occupied a year after winning a National Championship, it wouldn’t be an easy thing to drop everything and go to war.
Everson, though, has a couple of advantages, one being the camaraderie of his teammates who, according to Everson, have been there for him at all times.
“The team’s been really supportive. Most of them have talked to me and thanked me for fighting for the county and told me they’ve been proud of me,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed what they’ve done for me in just keeping my confidence up and being there for me when I have to miss a year and a half of wrestling and school.”
But his teammates aren’t the only ones who have helped Everson adjust to the fact he is heading to war.
Coach J Robinson was in a similar position more than 30 years ago, as he served a tour in Vietnam as a captain in the U.S. Army.
Knowing that he is led at the University by someone speaking from experience about the subject makes Everson a little more comfortable about his upcoming couple of years.
“I talked to J last spring after I got word I was being deployed. And he was really supportive of it,” Everson said. “Robinson has been a great role model for me and looking back at it, it’s comforting knowing that he’s been in a similar situation as me.”
Robinson, head coach at Minnesota since 1985, said he is “very supportive of Everson.”
“To most of the kids on this campus the war is not relevant because it does not touch them. Until it really touches your life, most people don’t really think about it,” Robinson said. “Being in the guard gives him a different obligation than most college kids.”
But Everson credited the experiences he’s had at Minnesota and the things he’s learned in Robinson’s wrestling program for indirectly preparing him for what he is soon to face.
“When I’m in wrestling practice I concentrate 100 percent on wrestling and have nothing else in my mind,” Everson said. “Now looking back at the opportunities that I’ve had and the situations I’ve been put in because of wrestling, and it has prepared me for what I’m dealing with.”
And just as Everson learned and prepared himself from the lessons of wrestling, we can all take a minute to learn from Everson’s sacrifice for the sake of freedom and country.