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Notes from Thursday action at USA Wrestling events in Las Vegas



Sanchez fuels his passion for wrestling in Veterans event

Marco Sanchez had an impressive wrestling career. He was a high school star, went to Arizona State where he was an All-American, and even wrestled in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ga. representing Puerto Rico. His Olympic-level career ended after his life as an educator, and his responsibilities with family took him out of the game.

Yet Sanchez, now 36, is among the athletes competing at the Veterans Nationals this year, testing himself against other older athletes who can't seem to get the sport out of their system.

Sanchez is a vice-principal at Elk Grove High School in California. He has a Masters degree and a PHd, and a wife Colleen and three year old son, Marco, Jr. He has worked out with the school's high school team a few times a week to get ready to wrestle. They all came as a family to see Marco wrestle and have been enjoying the experience.

"It has been 12 years since I won a stop-sign award, back at the 1994 University Nationals," said Sanchez. I had won five of them between 1988 and 1994. I also wanted my little man to see me wrestle. That is why I am here."

Sanchez won the Veterans Greco-Roman title on Wednesday at 152 pounds in Div. A, and came back on Thursday to win a double title. He is a bit banged up from the wrestling, and may end his Veterans career after this weekend, but it has been fun for him and the family.

"The veterans have a commeraderie," said Sanchez. "One of the older guys has been doing this for 10 years. He says I am 'one of us now.' I don't see the egos here much. They are professional, mature people with families. They are weekend warriors. It's relaxed."

This is quite a difference than wrestling in the Olympics, but Sanchez always saw himself on the mat late into his life.

"I always saw myself wrestling into my late 30's or early 40's on the Senior level. But with my job, the duties I have, you don't have the time to put in. I got realistic. I'll wait for the Veterans, and then do that. "

When Sanchez came off the mat with his final victory today, to capture the freestyle title, he was greeted by another Olympian, fellow California native Eric Guerrero, who wrestled in the 2004 Olympics for the United States.

Retiring Portland State coach Grahn winding down career

There have been many prominent changes in coaching positions in Div. I college wrestling this year, enough to keep college fans interested and fuel the buzz on TheMat.com bulletin boards. One of the changes this year will take place at Portland State, where longtime coach Marlin Grahn recently announced his retirement.

Grahn is attending this year's U.S. Nationals, like he has for many other years, but this year his focus in not entirely on wrestling. It is on the next stage of his life.

"Last year, I told the team that this might be my last year," said Grahn. "My wife is retired from teaching. My son is a junior college baseball player, a catcher, and I have only seen him play once. My daughter has a baby, and I'm a grandfather. I have plenty to keep me busy. I will also help the program when I can."

Grahn is amazed at the number of changes coming this year to the coaching ranks in college wrestling.

"It is not a small percentage of change," he said. "It may be some of the same people, but there is so much happening. We are at the bottom end of this totem pole. Hopefully, they find somebody who is young and up-and-coming, or somebody who is experienced and is local. It will be interesting to see who applies."

Demos returns to wrestling after a decade away

James Demos used to be a very talented Greco-Roman wrestler, a heavyweight who competed for the U.S. Army and reached as high as No. 2 on the Greco-Roman national team. His career ended in 1995, when he got out of the Army and he went on with his life. He started an industrial maintenance business, and started a family

Now, a decade later, he is back on the mats, and he became a double champion at the Veterans Nationals during his first competition.

He had grown to over 360 pounds, and his doctor asked him to lose some weight. He got down to about 300 pounds, and realized it would not be that difficult to get down to 286 and get back into the sport.

He is a single parent, and is busy raising an 11-year old daughter who is active in competitive cheerleading. He got a push back onto the mats from her as well.

"Every weekend for 10 weeks, I travel with her for cheerleading," said Demos. "She said, 'why don't you wrestle anymore?'"

With a little urging from some of his old Army teammates, Demos decided to come to Las Vegas this year not just to watch, but also to compete.

"I went to dinner in Atlanta with Shon Lewis, and Dremiel Byers and Tina George," he said. "The said why not come to Las Vegas to watch. But when I talked to Sieracki on the phone, he said, "why not wrestle in the Veterans?"

Demos has watched what he eats, worked out in a club, and done other exercises, but has not had much time on the mat prior to this weekend. However, the big man who once was a major force in wrestling found some of the old magic, including a very effective gutwrench turn.

Demos had a great time and plans to return next year to wrestle in the Veterans event again. And this time, he will bring his daughter with him.

"I miss the competition bad," said Demos. "Once it is in your blood, it is hard to get it out. Nothing beats being here, especially with the commeraderie with the Army team. Nothing beats the wrestling family."

East continues wrestling with hip replacement

There was a television crew from the television show "Today's Health" covering the U.S. Veteran Freestyle Nationals on Thursday. They are covering the competition of David East, a wrestler in Div. D at the 76 kg/167.5 lbs. division who is competing after having a hip replacement.
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