IN THE WORLD OF GRECO-ROMAN WRESTLING, you often hear the word “struggle.” There is always a struggle, men are struggling. They’re struggling to pry open an opponent’s arms in order to clear enough space for a throw or a lock. They’re struggling to force a different position, or to get free, or to wedge closer inside where the decision to do so will likely be met with unrelenting resistance. A rarity, it is, for any “action” — we use that word, too — to not bring about a response weighed and measured specifically to cause another man hell. They keep score in these contests. For some reason. Like any other sport, there are winners and losers, heartbreaks and triumphs. The canvas might be colored differently. Results may vary. But whatever the sum of the equation happens to read when it has indeed reached its conclusion, the only thing you’re positive about is that you witnessed a struggle, the one verifiable constant all parties involved agree to acknowledge and observe.
Whether or not Courtney Myers was born for this lifestyle is up in the air. He might have been. All of this seems to suit him. Myers, 30, never takes the smooth road in his bouts. Not that there are very many of them to begin with, but when you watch Myers go about his business, it seems almost as if he would prefer to stick it out in the pocket for as long as possible just so he could get a few extra swings in. He wants you at your best, he wants to know he left the mat taking your best shot, and he wants to walk off knowing he gave his. That sounds simple. It isn’t. Greco-Roman wrestling, forever legislated and re-legislated to encourage scoring, requires complicity on the part of both athletes to drum up static. Not everyone is game every match. Myers is. He eagerly strolls into the arena in search of a dogfight and while he is most certainly on a pursuit of excellence, there is little doubt he appreciates the ferocity of competition for what it offers each cell in his body.
A multiple-time US National Team member, Myers cut his Senior-level Greco teeth as a member of the Marine Corps before joining on with the Army. So yes, he’s a service member on top of being a National-caliber combatant, an all-too-important component of his outward identity. Like many athletes, he has also faced obstacles. In the midst of his continued climb atop the rankings, Myers suffered an injury to his chest that, without hyperbole, very likely could have and would have been a career-ender. Never to take anyone’s word above the one echoing in his heart, Myers sought out a second opinion, and then a third, and somehow or another, re-emerged better than ever at a stage in his life when no one would have blinked an eye had he white-flagged it all the way home. But as you can hopefully tell, that’s just not this man’s style.
Following a dominant showing at the 2017 Armed Forces Championships and a downright inspiring run at the World Team Trials, Myers isn’t just back, but remade, as well. There are new tools, new strengths uncovered, new objectives to smash like all of the other ones before. First up is next month’s World Military Championships in Klaipeda, Lithuania. Myers will compete at 80 kilograms and surely be accompanied in his bracket by some of the best Greco wrestlers on the planet. That’s good. No, not just good, but all he asks for. He’ll be prepared for the high stakes and the opportunity to wear his country’s colors on the grand stage. He will be wearing them for you, too. Make sure you watch, if you can. Pay attention to what you witness after the referee does his sweat check. Count to ten. You’ll see the happiest man on Earth.
5PM Interview with Courtney Myers
5PM: I remember talking to you at the Armed Forces Championships in February and you were telling me about a pretty major injury you incurred some months prior. You had a broken bone in your chest for crying out loud, right?
Courtney Myers: Yes. Okay, so basically, I got out of school in November right before Thanksgiving and we went to UNC (University of North Carolina) to do some cross-training. Just to do something different, something new. Practice in any room gets a little repetitive. We went over there to get some cross-training in and I was wrestling with a kid and he shot a blast double on me. He caught me right in the chest and I wound up fracturing my sternum in two spots. That kind of put a damper some things for awhile. Of course, the doctors at UNC were saying, You’re done. It’s not safe to come back from an injury like that.
When we got back to Colorado, I saw three other specialists and two out of the three told me that I was basically done wrestling, that if I take a blow to the chest it could kill me. I wasn’t happy with that answer because I still felt I had more left. So I went and got a third opinion out in town, a civilian doctor, and he looked at the x-rays and my CT scan and he told me that the bone had broken off and was in like, a dead space area. It wasn’t sitting in a dangerous area, near my heart and lungs, and that was the question of where my break was. Looking at a normal x-ray, it was in front of my lungs or my heart, so everyone was like, No, you’re done. If you get in a car accident, take a blow to the chest, or something simple, and you could be done right then and there.
5PM: Done as in dead?
CM: Yeah, that it could possibly kill me. But I am just one of those guys, I need a for-sure answer. I can’t just go off of, Well, you shouldn’t do this or I don’t think you should. I saw as many doctors as I could about it. The specialist I saw said it wasn’t in any danger. The only thing he said was that if I ever need CPR, at any point in my life, they are going to fracture my chest plate again — which is not uncommon, especially when they perform CPR on older people or things like that.
So I looked at him and said, Okay, so I’m cleared to wrestle? He said, “Yep, take four weeks off, ease back into it, and we’ll go from there.” That was the deal. We took four weeks off and then I started with therapy as far as moving and just slowing getting back into it, and it was probably Week 8 when it started to be full-on from there.
5PM: Week 8 would have been when?
CM: That would have been the first of January, really, because I did wrestle at the Nationals.
5PM: Right, and that’s what I wanted to ask you about. You came back early for the Nationals in mid-December and watching you in action, you clearly weren’t there comparative to what we’ve all seen before. Did you feel it was necessary to go into the Open, that it was something you absolutely, positively had to do? You had to figure there was going to be another chance to qualify for the World Team Trials, the Armed Forces Championships does that, as well. What was your motivation to try and come back then if you weren’t 100%?
Courtney Myers: Well, back when I was in the Marine Corps with our coach, Major (Dan) Hicks, he just put a fight in us that it didn’t matter if you got hurt or got sick, you got up and kept going. When you’re dead, you’re dead, that kind of mentality. I’ll get a rest when they put me six feet under (laughs). I’ve always been like that, so I wouldn’t say it was necessary for me to (enter the Nationals), but I’ve always had that drive and I wanted to wrestle. I felt better. That would have been Week 6 for me, and I felt good Week 6. I talked to our trainers and said, “Look, if I feel like it’s hurting or if I feel something isn’t right, I will injury default out.” But in my mind, I was going in there to win it. Things obviously worked out differently once I started wrestling. I just noticed I wasn’t all there.
It was more on me wanting to wrestle because I hadn’t been on the mat in a while. It was a thing where I had come back from school, started training again, started feeling good, and kind of got shut down by a situation I couldn’t control. Now that I kind of had control of it and felt good, I thought I felt good mentally, although my performance showed otherwise. I think it was me being hard-nosed and stubborn and being the person I am, I wanted to get back on the mat and do my job.
5PM: At the Armed Forces, as a physical athlete, the way you were moving, your attacks, I left there thinking that you were rounding into form. You even had Brandon Johnson that day, someone you dropped a match to a couple years ago, but you got him out of there. I know what that event means to your team, but your three matches that Saturday must have had you feeling like, Okay, I am starting to click now, I’m functioning at full capacity, right?
CM: Yeah, definitely. I trained a little differently. Obviously, I am getting a little older. Going into the Armed Forces, I’m one of those people who feeds off of negativity, so whenever I hear Why are you still doing this? or, What happened from two years ago to now? or, Why haven’t you been performing like you had been in the past?, I don’t get down on myself about it. I come home and honestly, I’ll talk to my wife about it, just like anybody else who’s married and has an issue with work or whatever. And I just go in and take it and let it feed me. Coming out of the Nationals or even Schultz, I kind of had to reality check myself and ask, What are you doing? I had to figure out what my body was telling me. I knew my mind wasn’t right and honestly, I had never been down that road before where I couldn’t figure out what was wrong or have someone tell me, This is what’s wrong and here’s how to fix it. I was in one of those states for months where it was a freak incident that I didn’t know how to pull out of and I didn’t.
About a month before the Armed Forces, something just clicked. I just kind of dropped everything and said, December was December, Schultz was Schultz. I’ve got to make a statement because I only have a short amount of time left age-wise and I know I’m a better wrestler than what I showed those two tournaments. I knew going into the Armed Forces that Johnson was going to have a big head about him because he did beat me the year before, and I still have my opinion about that match. He caught me. But either way, he still beat me and it should have never happened.
So I went into the Armed Forces with the mindset that, I have a statement to make, I’m going to wrestle how I am supposed to, and I am going to put myself back out there like I should be. That’s how I went into Armed Forces, like that. I trained as hard as I possibly could and every night when I came home I was ready to pass out (laughs).
5PM: Your WCAP teammate Jon Anderson had a really impressive World Team Trials performance, considering how he patched together his training and how packed 85 kilograms was. But so was 80. You dropped an extraordinarily tight match to Cheney Haight in the semis but you went ahead and defeated Barrett Stanghill for third, making the National Team yet again. Did this performance rank as your favorite at the Trials given what you had gone through?
Courtney Myers: I’ll say yes and no on that one. The reason I say no to that a little bit is because in 2010, I was still in the Marine Corps obviously, and my coach Major Hicks, we always worked really hard for him and he put a lot of time inside and outside of the room with us, on a personal level and as a coach. And that was the day he retired out of the Marine Corps, the day I actually made National Team for the first time. That was a really big deal to me because he was only the second wrestling coach I ever had. That was a really big one.
But this year was, too, and I think it was equal to that first one, honestly. Because I knew where I was at the beginning of the year and I didn’t get the turn out I exactly wanted at the Trials, but I kind of found my style after battling through all of the injuries. I got back to wrestling how I want to wrestle and how I need to wrestle. That was a huge thing for me.
Honestly, I contemplated giving it up after Schultz earlier in the year. This reaffirmed that to have done so would have been wrong, that I have plenty of time left to wrestle, especially after Trials. I fell a little short against Cheney, but Cheney is a tough wrestler, I’ve wrestled him quite a bit in practice and what not, so I wasn’t ashamed of that match by any means. I did pretty much what I could to win that match.
I think making National Team again this year just sealed it in my head that come 2020, that’s what we’re going for ultimately, it’s just training different, training hard, and keeping that hard training going the whole time.
5PM: Come January of 2018, the new weight classes are coming, they are presenting a different look. For you, that will be either 82 or 87 kilograms. We’re also moving into the new weigh-in format, as well. How do both of these issues affect your career going forward?
CM: Honestly, the effect turns out a little better for me. I’m short, but I’m bigger-built, anyways. When I started making 80, a lot of people didn’t believe I could because I had struggled making 85 in the past, and I think that was a little lack of discipline and being young, and still having that mindset of, Oh, I could cut five kilos the day of. And really, how I am training now, I keep it pretty consistent, pretty healthy, and doing it the right way like you should be. With that being said, we have a trainer at WCAP, (Ali) Asgary, and I’ve been working with him as far as nutrition-wise. For me, this first year coming in, I’m going to stay down at 82 (kilos) and see how it goes. I’ve been working on keeping my natural bodyweight down and keeping it lower so I don’t have to worry about cutting weight. Not that I mind it because that’s part of the grind. Part of embracing wrestling is embracing that weight cut. Coach (Shon) Lewis says it to us all the time, that’s your first battle before you step into the tournament, making weight. (If) you step on the scale and make weight, you’ve already won half the tournament.
The reality is that 82, or 80 right now, that’s my weight class. It’s where I should be. Going up to 85, I struggle a little more there. So I plan to be, at least for next year, at 82, and I think it is beneficial because it makes me take it a little more serious.
5PM: Yeah, but you also have the 2 kilo allowance, too.
CM: Right, but for me personally, I can’t look at it like I need to depend on that, you know what I mean?
5PM: No, I get it, I mean, why even have the allowance the first year anyway?
CM: Right. If you’re dependent on that, you still have to make it through that first day. Whether it’s 80 or 82, I still have to make the weight, I still have to wrestle and I still have to do what I have to do. As far as going into the Olympic Year, if they don’t do a weight change, because I know 82 is a non-Olympic weight, I’ll definitely go up to 87 for the Olympic Year, for obvious reasons. I think going down any lower is too little for me (laughs).
5PM: A lot of wrestlers have said that they have found cutting weight to actually be easier as they have gotten older. Do you find this to be the case for you and if so, why?
CM: I think in a way it has gotten easier and that’s because you’re smarter as you get older. You don’t sneak out and go eat Taco Bell or Burger King five nights a week, because you can’t. As you get older you learn, I don’t want to spend eight hours in the sauna. I’d rather do a run and lose just as much weight doing that without feeling like I’m drained.
As I’ve gotten older, yeah, I’ve made weight easier, but I have also become smarter as far as nutrition goes and not doing the things we do as younger kids when we’re wrestling. I don’t think there are many guys I’m wrestling with now when as a kid, you weren’t sneaking candy bars or something like that where it made that one practice that much harder. You don’t realize it then because, I’m 20 years old, I can run 12 miles and be alright. You just get smarter as you get older and it makes you train differently. You know more, but you don’t know everything because none of us do. But you start thinking about it more and what your coaches have told you over the years. So you start putting it into perspective and doing those things more.
5PM: They took out ordered par terre last fall, now it’s coming back though we don’t know exactly how. Have you enjoyed the soon-to-be previous ruleset staying on your feet the whole time? Or is par terre coming back something you’re excited about?
Courtney Myers: Well, I did enjoy the new rules with us staying on our feet. If you go back and look at any of my films, I gave up more points in par terre (laughs).
5PM: Most US guys give up more points in par terre, but you also had your lifts.
CM: Hmm hmm. But as far as the rules, I definitely enjoyed being on the feet the most. Going back to par terre, we still work it now because if you get taken down you still have to defend something, I’m definitely looking forward to it coming back. I know where my par terre is and over the last year we’ve been working on a lot of stuff, so I am kind of excited about it. How they are going to do it? Like you said, we have no clue. I’d even say I wouldn’t mind if they brought the old reverse lift back because that’s when I started wrestling and when I was younger we had those rules.
It doesn’t really put a dent in me if they bring it back or they don’t, or how they do it. Really, I’m happy for it, because then I can get back into my par terre and back into my lifts and stuff like that. Generally, I’m kind of happy they are bringing par terre back. How they are going to do it, I have no clue, but I’m looking forward to it.
5PM: You could include the rules in this if you’d like, but what does Greco have to do to attract viewers again, whether we’re talking the US or elsewhere? What is the sport missing when it comes to luring in new fans?
Courtney Myers: For me, it’s more involvement, obviously. When I was in high school and wrestling Cadets and Juniors, I’m from Michigan originally, and our state had a ton of Greco tournaments and a ton of freestyle tournaments. So you got a lot of involvement with the kids because they are wrestling either style, or both. And the parents and the audience are there and seeing that. Having that young starting age is part of it, but you’re also building an audience from there because families start out watching their kids wrestling at 10 or 12 years old at Greco tournaments, and they keep doing that throughout the years. Obviously, that is going to grow the crowd. They are going to have more of a sense of what’s going on because they are seeing it more.
Honestly, that’s a big thing, because when my brother was in high school, he would have to travel for like, four and a half hours, and it would be for one Greco tournament a month. That small part would help the growth of it. And like you say, we have to find ways to sell it more. It’s easy with freestyle because I could be watching ESPN or any sports channel, and there is going to be an Asics commercial with Jordan Burroughs on there. We don’t have any companies with a commercial featuring a Greco guy. You always get to see about freestyle. When you’re watching the NCAA’s, they say, Kyle Snyder, Olympic champion, World champion. Things like that. For humans in general, you get that little input in you, you might not notice it right away, but it’s already embedded in your head. He wrestled at the World Championships or, He did this, he did that, and that gives you a little insight to where if you don’t know what it is, to look at it.
5PM: For the causals who don’t know, please explain how important the World Military Championships are not only to you, but to the other US service members who have qualified for this mega event, which this year will be taking place in Lithuania.
CM: The importance of the CISMs (International Military Sports Council — in this case, the World Military Championships — Ed.), first off, we are the Armed Forces. We are always told, at least when we leave for the Army as wrestlers, that we’re fighting another battle for our brothers and sisters who can’t. They’re fighting overseas as boots on the ground. They are fighting that battle, and we’re back here fighting the same battle, just on a different floor. So going into CISMs, you’re representing all of the Armed Forces of our country — the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines — you’re kind of stamped with that, you’re the top dog at that weight class at that time. To go over there and wrestle against these other countries, honestly, it is hard to explain unless you go to an Armed Forces Championships or the Military Worlds, the CISMs. It’s an experience you can’t really describe.
You have every branch from every different military from every country in one room and it’s almost like bragging rights in a different aspect. We’re not battling, we’re not shooting rounds down range. We’re doing things on the mat. Yet, we see these guys overseas year round, we see the same guys and you get to know them. But to represent the United States as a whole in the military aspect, it’s already a great thing. Whatever branch you’re in, it’s huge to be able to represent your country. Then to go onto a World stage and not only represent your country, but also the fellow service members of your branch. So for me, I’m representing the Army and whatever I do and however I perform, that puts a stamp on the Army. But it’s for the Armed Forces in general.
It also goes to show people who may have things to say about the military, that this is a good thing. This is a sport. It shows everyday people that there is more to being a soldier, or being a Marine or being a sailor. It’s more than just going down range and saying, I’m in the military. There are other ways to represent yourself as a service member in the Armed Forces.
5PM: For this event, do you guys do any advance scouting? Like you said before, you already know who a lot of the guys at your weight likely are, you see them other places. Do you scout out potential opponents in your bracket or do you just show up and it is who it is standing across?
CM: Personally speaking, I can’t really speak for anyone else, but I know Coach Lewis is always telling us, You need to be watching film, you need to be thinking about your opponents. Honestly, the last couple of days I’ve gone through last year’s CISMs and checked out guys at 80 kilos just to see who was there. There’s no guarantee they are going to be there when we show up on the 17th, but if they are and I haven’t wrestled them, then at least I get an idea of something to look for. It is kind of hard to scout because you don’t know who is going to show up, so you do kind of like what I am doing, which is looking at the last couple of CISMs trying to get an idea of who could possibly be there.
But the reality of watching these guys is that we all change. We all do different things. And it’s wrestling. Just because they showed up last year and won it doesn’t mean they won’t show up and be tougher than they were the year before. I just look at it as they don’t know who they’re about to wrestle so when that whistle blows, it’s game time.
5PM: There was World Team Camp, which wrapped up nearly a month ago and you participated those two weeks. But outside of that, and we’re talking about virtually the entire All-Army team here, what has preparation been like for you guys throughout the summer as the tournament draws closer?
CM: Senior camp was, for us, the start for what we call our “Beast Mode”, where you are just 100% focused on going to the CISMs. Senior camp was tough, but it got us ready. We’re in a camp right now and like you said, it is pretty much the whole Army team. Training has picked up. Coach (Spenser) Mango has been running practices the last couple of weeks and it has been amping up as much as we can. Probably for the next two weeks, it will be full-blow, hit it hard for five days out of the week — and I say five days out of the week as far as coming into the room in practicing — and the other two days you are kind of on your own. You’re still working out and doing what you have to do.
But it’s been amping up as far as being on the mat. We usually drill in the morning and go live in the afternoons, but for us, our drills are more play-wrestling. I think that is a big part for us because it’s not just walking in and hitting 20 arm drags. You’re moving. Major (Jon) Anderson and I are training together right now. He and I are pretty big partners for each other and everyone knows he’s a wildman. He’s got lungs for days. Our play-wrestling goes from 30%, working positions, and just moving, to any given second it could be 100% full live (laughs). Today, for instance, Wednesday is our half day, we get in a tough circuit or lift the first half of the day, and then he and I came in after that workout. We got on the mat to do some drills, to just do some movement. It started out with drills, and then we ended up doing six or seven live go’s.
That’s how it is. We’ll start out play-wrestling and then it becomes full balls-to-the-wall, go until somebody scores and then we’re right back up on our feet. But I think he and I have a really good rapport training with each other and for me getting ready, it has helped me take huge steps. It’s just one of those things, when you get two guys in the room training like that, we’d do anything for each other but when it comes to that circle, it’s to each his own (laughs).
I think overall, the camp for us is a lot of mat work. We do our conditioning mostly on our own because everyone knows what conditioning is. I think that’s a big thing. It doesn’t get totally put on us, but we’re told, Hey, if you’re not running, you’re not doing the right things. Your mind’s not right. And if your mind isn’t right, your wrestling won’t be, either. The camp we have going on now, it’s good. It’s a battle every day and it is getting us ready 100% for CISMs.
5PM: You’re a family man. What is it like being an elite athlete operating in that kind of lifestyle while also being a husband and father of two kids? How do you reconcile the time you get to spend both training and with your family?
CM: First, my wife is supportive as all get-out. As far as when training has to get done or a big tournament like CISMs is coming up, she knows because we’ve been around each other for a long time, we’ve been around each other since elementary school. She has been around me wrestling all the way from high school till now, so she knows when it’s time to train, she helps with getting the whole family on board as far as when it’s tournament time, it’s wrestling season, and my kids are very supportive, too. When I’m wrestling, they are always watching on TV or online. But my wife knows everything. When I am cutting weight, she’ll ask me how I’m doing. How’s the weight cut? How was practice? She’s really supportive about it and that helps a lot.
Kids are going to be kids so when you have to leave once or twice a month for competition, of course they are going to be a little down about it because Dad is leaving. But in the end, they love watching me on TV, they think that is a really cool thing. It’s fun for them. They take part in training, too, because on the weekends or if they don’t have school, they’ll come to WCAP with me and train. They will run on the treadmill or the elliptical. Their big thing is they’ll ask, Dad, can we sit in the sauna with you? I’ll let them go in there a little bit (laughs). It’s not a big American thing, to put kids in the sauna, but if you look at Russia, Sweden, or Finland, their kids’ gym time during the winter is going into the sauna. It’s fun. I deal with them saying, Dad, it’s real hot in here. I make sure they drink plenty of water and what not.
My kids play sports, too. They are both playing flag football right now. I’ve got two girls and they love it. We’re an athletic family. If I’m not hunting or fishing, we’re playing softball during the week. My wife and I play co-ed softball more nights out of the week than I probably should, but it’s another way for us to spend time together. We’re athletes in this house. We’re always competing at something, it doesn’t matter what it is. The whole family. I’ve got my youngest, who is six, looking at me saying, Dad, I’ll beat you in this. That’s just what it is. That’s how my wife and I grew up in our families and we’re passing that on to our kids. But when it’s time for their stuff, it’s time for their stuff. If I have to wait until ten o’clock at night to get in an extra run, then that’s what I have to do. I know a lot of coaches say you have to get your rest and be in bed at a certain time, but when you’re a dad and you have your own family, there are sacrifices you have to make and you don’t want to always sacrifice the family time. There are times you have to. But the times you don’t have to, you make those sacrifices on your own time.
5PM: In the beginning of this, you talked about how your performances in February and at the Trials validated you continuing on here. So how are you seeing your future in the sport at this stage in your career?
Courtney Myers: Right now, I’m seeing it pretty bright, to be honest with you. I’ve made a few adjustments since Trials alone. Bruce Robinson is pretty much my main coach as far as who I go to or who is usually on me to make sure I’m doing the right things, and those adjustments I’ve made, with the way my mindset is, I see a bright future coming in the next couple of years. I know the work I need to put in. I know where and how to push myself along with other little things I need to keep doing. This next year is going to be fun, for sure.
Follow Courtney Myers on Instagram to keep up with his career and competitive schedule.