USA Greco

Roberts & P-Mart Talk ‘Shark Bait’, Final Push to Budapest

dalton roberts, podcast
Dalton Roberts -- Photo: Richard Immel

The conclusion of Senior National Team camp a week ago in Colorado Springs means only thing: the 2018 World Championships now becomes less and less of a hypothetical. There are no secrets here. The Greco Worlds is an unforgiving, chaotic, and competitively challenging tournament of which there is no equal. Then again, coming off of what the World Teamers have just been through, it would seem they’ll find themselves more than adequately prepared.

That’s why we’re touching up on the camp.

For two weeks at the Olympic Training Center, members of the World Team were consistently pushed and tested by their coaches, as well as by the allotment of training partners available. Everyone in wrestling, regardless of style, has either heard about or participated in “shark bait” drills. Tis an exercise in debilitation. Shark bait is designed to force top-caliber athletes into confronting their fear of fatigue in effort to be remade whole again on the other side.

The Greco World Teamers didn’t do this just once. This was a featured part of the camp’s itinerary. Afternoons spent weightlifting, conditioning, or drilling around on the side offered the closest approximation to “taking it easy.” The whole point of the mega World Team Camp is for athletes to be introduced to what the wall looks like over and over again so they’ll have the fortitude to smash it into debris once the curtain lifts next month.

As we begin to circle the wagons one more time prior the World Championships (Greco’s start date is October 25th in Budapest), World Team members Dalton Roberts (60 kg, NYAC/OTS) and Patrick Martinez (87 kg, NYAC) are first on the docket. Both athletes shared what camp was like for them and how they managed persevere through the rigors of the summer.

Dalton Roberts — 60 kg, NYAC/OTS

5PM: Even before this year and your making this World Team, you had a reputation as an exceptionally hard worker, if not the hardest working athlete in the program. There were also great reviews for you coming out of Oregon, Las Vegas, and Germany. Now you’ve just finished another big camp where there is a lot of positive feedback. How have you been able to maintain such a high level of intensity throughout what has been a busy summer filled with training?

Dalton Roberts: I don’t know if I look at it as a struggle to maintain. I think it’s a mental thing. For me at least, and I’m sure it’s like this for others but I can only speak on my behalf, but I get more satisfaction during the times when I do something that I don’t want to do. Or, when it’s hardest to do. Like when you get up and run sprints on the track in the middle of the week during a training camp. It sucks, but if you put all of your effort and attitude into it, you feel more rewarded that you did it. Because for one thing, it was tough. It’s difficult, it’s not easy. Maybe there’s a part of you that didn’t want to do it, but you did anyway and you feel better for it. That’s definitely my mindset.

There are some things I don’t want to do. I don’t attack everything with a smile on my face. Some things have to be gritted out. But they need to be, because that’s what gets you on top. That’s just how I try to approach everything and it has worked out. It has gotten me here and I know it is getting me further. It’s a very positive mindset. Even if things aren’t going your way, you still have to keep working.

5PM: Compared to what you’ve done so far this summer, how tough was camp in Springs?

Roberts: It was a grind, grind. That’s what I’d call it, just a grind. The way that the camp was set up, the World Team member stayed in and he had two, three, or maybe four partners coming in. Fresh guys every round pretty much day-in and day-out. It was a grind and it was meant to break you. I realized that about the first day wrestling live. You know, your legs really aren’t ready for camp, your lungs from the elevation — you break. But when you break you get stronger. You can’t get stronger in your comfort zone. Maybe that’s something I heard Dennis Hall say, but you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Colorado Springs was more of a push and a grind, whereas Las Vegas was more technique-based. We were honing in on our game plans and things like that. Oregon was just strength. But Colorado was a grind. It was meant to break us and I think it did. If you didn’t come out of that camp broken in one way, shape, or form mentally or physically — but better for it — then I think you did something wrong.

5PM: You’re in the middle of a week and a half of what is supposed to somewhat be downtime. Will you use this time between now and next week to recover? Or have you still been getting training in, just not at the same level of craziness?

Roberts:tried to take time off. I got back Saturday night. I had Sunday, I saunaed. Monday, I ran in the morning. I had told the coaches I wouldn’t be on the mat until Wednesday, Rob (Hermann) and Andy (Bisek). But on Monday I came in for the afternoon practice like, Yeah, I can’t do that. I didn’t know what to do. I ran, I saunaed already, I felt pretty good, so it was just, Alright, I’m jumping back into practice. Practice right now coming down from Colorado Springs, it’s not going to be the same intensity. But we’re still doing live go’s, speed throws, technique, and we might be wrestling live tomorrow. It’s odd. I thought I’d need some time after I got back but then I realized that I only needed a day and a half. But now I feel good. I’m back at it.

5PM: Has Rob or Andy talked about pulling the reins back on you a little bit?

Roberts: No. I think they know that I know how I feel. If I did ask for time off the mat they would work with me. But I’m confident that I know my body. Sometimes, I do need rest. But when I came back from camp I wanted to get back on the mat. I wanted to wrestle. But the elevation in Colorado Springs, every time I come back from there I feel like I can run five marathons back-to-back-to-back-to-back. But my legs and lungs are stronger, and I just want to go. So that’s how this week has been.

5PM: You’re leaving for the Worlds next week. It might not be for another three weeks from the time you arrive, but that’s what you’re hopping on a plane for. Now that flight is right around the corner, does the tournament feel like it’s imminent?

Roberts: Yeah, it definitely feels imminent. I’ve never left for a trip this far in advance so maybe it’s in my mind that I’m getting on a flight and going to Worlds. But I’ll be competing that much sooner, so it’s exciting.

We have a white board in the wrestling room and I have a countdown till Budapest. I think we’re at 28 days tomorrow morning and then I’ll change it. But we have a countdown and I hope the guys continue it until I compete, or maybe the number won’t move until they realize it. But I’m aware of the days. I have it counting down to the hour I weigh in. But it definitely signifies a part of the journey. The journey has already begun, but the final stage of it. So it’s definitely exciting.

Patrick Martinez — 87 kg, NYAC

5PM: This is your third World Team, so this was your third major US World/National Team camp. How was it different compared to the others you had been a part of?

Patrick Martinez: We did a lot of shark bait. That’s what it was like almost every practice. It’s good, it is definitely taxing on your body, and I do feel in better shape because of it. We would do live in the morning and have different partners rotate in on us. And then in the afternoon we would either have weightlifting or drilling, but the drilling would also see partners rotating in on you.

5PM: At this time of the season, some athletes feel they should use camp to refine already-present strengths, while others may feel there are tweaks needing to be made. Did you have any such focus for yourself during camp?

Martinez: As a whole, I don’t think there were any technical things to address. There was no time for technique, no time for creativity, and no time to try new things. It was live wrestling, which is fine, but it’s taxing when you have a fresh guy coming in every minute or two. At that point, you’re just trying to hold your ground. In the afternoon practices, it was either speed throws or fast-paced drilling with new partners rotating in on you.

I participated in a couple of the afternoon workouts but then I refrained from doing those after one or two and started play-wrestling with (Alexander) Kikinov, which for me was very beneficial, just to be creative and figure out things I need to work on. Just having him there to guide me through certain things, show me certain things, and get a good feel for wrestling with a good, high-level competitor. So that was great for me. But for the other guys, I don’t know how much they would benefit from the schedule format for all of the workouts. I would like to have had a few more open workouts, but it was good overall.

5PM: How has your body held up through what has been a lot of training this summer?

Martinez: My body has been pretty good. I really haven’t had anything outstanding, just general soreness from workouts and stuff like that. At the end of the later camp I kind of tweaked my hamstring a little bit, but it’s nothing serious. I did it on Thursday and I only had one more workout, so it wasn’t really a big deal. Overall, my body is feeling pretty good.

5PM: What I come back to is that following last year’s Trials, you put in a concerted effort to tack on more size and strength for 87 kilos. I’d guess that you having a more robust base to work with has helped you stay fresher and healthy during all of this.

Martinez: Yeah, I would definitely say I spent a lot of time getting a good base and adding size and strength on. Between the Trials of 2017 and now, I’ve really upped my calorie intake. I took my strength-training in the weight room a lot more seriously and more intense than I had in the past. I always worked out hard in the weight room before, but it was definitely a bigger focus of mine. I put a lot more energy into that.

It definitely feels good. My body feels well because of that. When I first started gaining weight and getting bigger, my knees and legs would be sore. My legs would feel more fatigued. But my body has adapted to the weight well and I have no more issues or anything like that. Yeah, I’m feeling really good. I’m stronger now than I was before, but there is always room for improvement. You can never be too strong.

5PM: You’re leaving on Tuesday. Even though you’ll be leaving for the Worlds, going over this far in advance, are there advantages to that?

Martinez: I think the biggest advantage is acclimating to the time zone, right? Getting on a good sleep schedule. There is a lot of research available which states that you need your full sleep for your brain and body to function at its peak, so I would say that is the biggest benefit to being out there so early in advance.

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