USA Greco

Literally All-In: How and Why Easton Hargrave Moved to the OTC

easton hargrave, 2018 greco-roman wrestling

Maybe you don’t choose Greco, but rather, it chooses you.

If a fact, there is typically resistance to the mysticism involved. Take an American wrestler — any wrestler who one day transforms into a bonafide “Greco athlete.” How did that process unfold? Did the winds swirl, gather strength somewhere over the atmosphere, build and build and build, until finally, the spiritual forces at play imparted a seismic shift in his (or soon enough, her) comprehension of unarmed combat?

Could it be there is an epiphany that renders the idea of bucking hips back and artfully doing one’s letter-best to dance around contact as not really combative at all? Greco-Roman, with its offering of blissful brutality and exclamative scoring holds is no longer an option but a destination, calling its scattered would-be inhabitants to their true home (hopefully) before it’s too late.

Should the above preamble seem a little too romantic, reconsider the national context. The US program might be engaged in continual recruiting efforts at each level of development, but more than anything, its goal is simply to help wrestlers who may have been previously reluctant to give themselves over to Greco realize it is the style that has suited them best all along. They just didn’t know it yet.

Easton Hargrave (87 kg, CWC) was an excellent scholastic wrestler in his native Washington, even setting the state record for pins his senior year. But because Tumwater High School isn’t some nationally-recognized behemoth of a program, Hargrave’s collegiate choices were limited in scope. But still, he wanted to keep plugging away, and was able to do so at Division II New Mexico Highlands University.

All the while Hargrave was competing in the traditional folkstyle system of wrestling that dominates participation in the US, he was moonlighting in the international styles. A University Nationals here, a US Open there, and even a spot in the finals of the Junior Greco-Roman World Team Trials Challenge Tournament some years ago. It went on like this. Whenever the calendar lined up appropriately, Hargrave would jump into freestyle and Greco tournaments and put forth one solid performance after another.

Because of course, the Washingtonian meshed really well with the relative hard-charging mechanics of Greco-Roman. As he aged up, Hargrave, 25, became even more adept than should be expected of someone who merely flirts with the style. In 2014, he grabbed a fifth at the US Senior Open; in ’15, seventh. You can also include a handful of other domestic events where Hargrave showed up and skewed the balance of a bracket. No, he wasn’t taking home golds. But he was making an impression.

Still, it was only last October — or seven months ago — when Hargrave shoved his chips to the middle of the table. Together with his fiancé Grace, they overloaded a rental truck with all of their earthly possessions and drove some 20+ hours southeast to Colorado Springs and the US Olympic Training Center. Hargrave had visited the facility on occasion previously for brief little training jaunts. The landscape, the environment, the stakes — it was all familiar enough for him to know this was the only decision left if he is going to make a worthwhile run at this Greco thing. The couple didn’t have jobs waiting for them or a place to stay. No big deal. Sometimes, it’s foolish to be wise.

Since the move, Hargrave has competed in two events — the Dave Schultz Memorial back in November and a mere couple of weeks following the move to Colorado; and the US Open last month in Las Vegas. His sixth-place finish at the Nationals guarantees a spot in the upcoming World Team Trials four weeks from today in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But a person doesn’t upend their lifestyle just so they can act as a mere participant. Hargrave hauled ass out of his comfort zone because he knows the time is now and this is where he belongs. Any further resistance to this fact would have resulted in a potentially enormous, life-altering missed opportunity.

You can call Hagrave’s situation a tale based on sacrifice if you wish. After all, a college graduate entering his mid-20’s about to get married and leaving behind financial stability and the relative security of home in pursuit of a dream doesn’t check a whole lot of other boxes than that one. But this is what happens. It’s what Greco does, tap a man on the shoulder asking, Where have you been? 

Hargrave has now responded and is gambling on a big payoff in the near-enough future.

Not that it’s necessarily a choice.

Easton Hargrave — 87 kg, CWC

5PM: You didn’t enter onto the Senior level completely green, but you also hadn’t been training Greco full-time. As your career has gained traction, what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned so far?

Easton Hargrave: The biggest thing I’ve learned so far… I’ve only been training Greco now for the past six or seven months, and I didn’t realize how much there is to Greco. It’s not just standing up and trying to throw each other, there is a lot of leverage, pushing, bending your knees, and hand-fighting. There’s a lot more to it than the non-Greco-lover will see.

5PM: When you say this, you mean the items that are intended to lead to offense, right? The stance, changing off of ties, fighting for better position, and that sort of thing?

EH: Exactly, all of the little things people don’t see that you have to do to become a great Greco-Roman wrestler.

5PM: Coming from a folkstyle/freestyle background, can you compare the physicality? Greco is obviously a very physical style, there is always contact. But have you noticed differences in the stamina and muscular endurance you need in order to compete? Or is it the same?

EH: The training for Greco, at least from my perspective, is way harder than it is for folkstyle and freestyle because you’re just pushing on each other for the entire two hours of practice. In freestyle, you get those little breaks where you’re standing up and you are separated. You’re not in contact. In Greco, you’re in contact the whole time. And not only are you always in contact, but your knees have to be bent and you have to get down low, which causes fatigue in your legs and shoulders.

So from a training perspective, in my opinion, you don’t get those breaks you get in folkstyle and freestyle, like when you finish a move and then you’re separated, you stand up straight, and go work another takedown. There is no separation in Greco, you’re always in contact with someone, and that’s not even to mention par terre. You’re always doing gutwrenches day-in and day-out. That’s the move on top. Freestyle, you work leg laces and maybe some gutwrenches, as well. But your ribs take a lot more of a pounding in Greco.

5PM: I was actually waiting for you to say that. Have you conditioned your ribs now?

EH: (Laughs) Yeah, they’re conditioned now. When I first came out to Colorado Springs they were hurting for a good month or two. I’ve probably built some callouses over them, so they don’t hurt so bad now.

5PM: You’re kind of an outlier in that you had been competing in Greco events for a while before making this a full-time endeavor. I remember when you wrestled age-group, too. It’s different now, you’re at the Olympic Training Center. Now that you are on a full-time basis, do you look back at some of your previous competitions and see a drastic difference in your approach?

EH: Yeah, I’ll go back and watch videos and say to myself, What was I doing?, or I’ll have cases of, How did I get away with that? At the Junior level, you can get away with a lot of stuff that would not fly at the Senior level, especially with how stacked 87 (kilograms) is right now.

5PM: I know you say that you’ll rewatch old matches and find criticisms, which I’d tend to think is natural. But at the same time, you were still able to compete well on what was relative rawness. Doesn’t that say something to you also?

EH: That’s probably the reason I came down here. I was proud of what I did, but still. I mean, from the last Open there is a bunch of stuff I see that was just stupid on my part. Take last year’s US Open, for example. I was the assistant coach at Grays Harbor College for the male’s club team. The school is actually becoming a female powerhouse and I was training with freestyle girls before I came to the Greco US Open. Those were the practice partners I had and I did the best that I could do. That’s why I had to come down to Colorado Springs, to have practice partners and coaches who know more Greco.

5PM: What precipitated the decision to move to Colorado Springs and take your career to a whole new level of seriousness?

Easton Hargrave: Well, I think this (2018) was my fifth US Open and I All-American’ed four or five times. I’ve always All-American’ed. I’ve taken third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh — all of the middle positions. I’m 25-years-old right now and if I am ever going to be the number-one guy, I’m not going to do that with the coaching and practice partners I have in Washington. I have a fiancé, we’re getting married this summer, and we talked numerous times about the decision to come down here. She supports me 100% and she said, “If your dream is to be on the World and Olympic Team, this is something we’re going to have to do. We can’t do it when we’re 35 or 40, you have to do it now.”

So we just loaded up the Penske truck and came down here. We didn’t even have a place. We didn’t know where we were going to live, we just knew we wanted to be in Colorado Springs. We came down here with a full Penske truck and found an apartment on the west side of town. I told Coach (Matt) Lindland I was coming and he said, “That’s cool, come talk to me when you get here.” And I did. It’s been tough, but I am glad I came down here. But it’s a tough lifestyle, training full-time and still trying to make enough money to live.

5PM: How are you functioning as a Senior athlete who also needs to make ends meet?

EH: I was trying to get a job when I first came down here. I need a job because I live with my fiancé and we split rent. We’ve got rent, student loans, car payments, and all of the bills grown-ups have. I couldn’t get a job at first. Everywhere I went, they were like, No, you can’t work two hours here, three hours there. The brewery down the road said I could maybe get a couple of night shifts, but that’s it. So I decided I was going to trade in my truck, I bought a car, and now I’m an Uber driver. I Uber in between practices and until 3:00am on Friday and Saturday nights.

I actually love it. You get some great conversations with people about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. Customers love it. They support me. They’re like, Are you kidding me, you’re a World Team-caliber athlete and you’re driving for Uber? That’s how I get by. It’s enough to get by at this point and that’s all I’m asking. Once my wrestling career is over, that’s when I will pursue a more steady career where I can do more than just get by.

5PM: If you drive for Uber, doesn’t your car have to be of a certain age or something like that? How does this work?

Easton Hargrave: I had a truck that I traded in for a 2017 Toyota Corolla. The car has to be, I believe, within 10 or 15 years, so an ’03 or newer. You have to drive it up to the Uber Greenlight hub in Denver and pass the vehicle safety inspection. They have a mechanic conduct like a 150-point safety inspection to make sure everything is good, no broken windows and the brake lights work, everything like that. They also had me undergo a physical to make sure I could move all of my joints and I could see. Then you just pay $25 fee, pass the safety inspection, do the physical, and you’re good to go.

5PM: How do you like the general area in and around Springs so far?

EH: I love Washington. When I’m all done, I’m going to be back in Washington. I’m a Northwest boy, I love it up there. But Colorado Springs is great. It has mountains, sunshine, and good hiking. We do the incline about every week. That doesn’t have to be here, but it’s good for training (laughs). But I like Colorado Springs, I have some friends here. I went to college just south of here, and it’s in the center of the country, so family or friends will drive through and spend the night at my apartment. You don’t really get that in the very Northwest of the country.

5PM: 87 kilos with a same-day weigh-in. Is that at all a thing for you or has it been an easy adjustment?

EH: It’s a perfect weight class for me. I walk around naturally at 89, so I just need to watch my weight for two or three days. Actually, before the Open, I checked my weight two days prior and I was 84 and a half, so I was considering going down to 82. But I enjoy food too much and 87 is good for me. It’s just the perfect weight class for my build right now.

5PM: 87 is tough everywhere. The guy at the top (Ben Provisor) is a two-time Olympian and in there with him are a couple of World Team members from the recent past as well as a collection of other experienced, credentialed competitors. No matter where you are in a bracket, someone dangerous is there. What do you like about this challenge right now?

Easton Hargrave: You’re right, it’s a great challenge, and I think it is good for American wrestling right now because it creates a competitive atmosphere that is only going to make the top guys stronger for international competition. Especially at the Olympic Training Center, you wrestle four or five of them weekly. You get to wrestle top guys who are competitive and are going to challenge you later at the World Team Trials and the Olympic Team Trials, and then there are others who just happen to be at that weight. I think it is good for America that it’s so tough. Your body feels it from time to time, though, not getting any breaks in the quarterfinals or the first round since you might have to wrestle a World Team member that early in the bracket.

5PM: Has working with Cheney Haight rubbed off on you at all?

EH: Oh, yeah. Even the week after the Open, we all talked before practice about what we did wrong and did right. Cheney kicked my ass at the Open, he tech’ed me within the first minute and I wanted to drag it out when I wrestled him. The arm spin killed me and then he got his gut and it was match-over. Then my coach and Cheney helped out about how I could defend the gut better, I need to put more weight and pressure (on the lock) and move. They’re just basic things. But it goes for everyone, Patrick (Martinez) and Joe Rau when he’s in town. I’ve been training here for a couple of months now and they all help me out. If I have questions, they don’t hesitate to answer them.

5PM: It’s a crazy kind of community, right? You’re all at each other’s throats and want to take each other’s spots, and it has to be that way. But in Greco, there is so much sharing, communication, and helpfulness that it’s such a stark contrast to how competitive and violent the sport is. 

EH: Yeah, but it’s only going to make them better. The more I improve, the better they have to get to be able to beat me. So, it’s just going to make us all better.

5PM: We’re roundabout five weeks away from the Tulsa World Team Trials. How have you been making adjustments coming off of the Open, and also, what does your general training phase look like as the tournament starts to approach?

Easton Hargrave: Me personally, I mean, my shape is fine. I think I’m in better shape than anyone in the weight class. Six minutes, I’m not going to be tired at the end. So my shape is fine and I keep pushing that during practice and everything. But it’s just stupid things, like giving up an underhook. I am very comfortable with an overhook. I could be a good wrestler with an overhook or double-overs, but I am not going to be able to beat these World Team members and Olympians by allowing them to dig underhooks on me all day. Even if I feel comfortable in that position, I’m not going to beat them (there), so I have to change that mindset. And it helps, too, because if these guys get an underhook on me and score, I’m like, Well, that’s what happens when they get underhooks, so quit letting them get that.

It’s a lot of trial-and-error. It’s a lot of par terre defense. I feel like I have great par terre defense, but obviously at the Open, Cheney showed that I don’t. He got one lock and finished the match. Coach Mohamed (Abdelfatah) has been working a lot with me on defense and when they get the lock which direction I should go, where to put the weight, what your hips are doing, and all that. It’s a lot of the same stuff. I know my bad habits and I’ve been trying to change them. Coach calls them “folkstyle habits”, so get out of those folkstyle habits.

Follow Easton Hargrave on Twitter to keep up with his career and competitive schedule. 

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