Shaun Williams is stuck in perhaps the toughest weight at today’s Region 18 wrestling tournament.
It just wouldn’t seem right if Williams were to breeze through the 118-pound division. The North Idaho College freshman is accustomed to obstructions. Overcoming them, too.
Williams was a passenger in a motorcycle accident at age 3, breaking numerous bones in his right foot. Doctors said he would never have normal use of his foot.
He was walking within months.
At age 6, Williams was introduced to wrestling. He almost always lost that first year and usually left the mat crying.
Over the ensuing five years, he didn’t lose a match.
Two years ago, he earned the right to compete for his native South Africa in the Olympic Games. He didn’t go, however, as his racially-torn homeland instead sent non-whites to watch - and not compete at - the Games.
That snub lingers, but he’s working on it.
“I know if I’m the best (in 2000), they’ve got to select me,” Williams said. “And I want to go for my country.”
For now, Williams will settle for being best in Region 18. That won’t be easy. He lost to Abel Valdez of Clackamas CC and Highline’s Nelson Crisanto, the defending regional champ, during the season. And K.C. Rock of Ricks has proven to be a tough foe.
“That weight is loaded,” NIC coach Pat Whitcomb said.
“I barely lost to (Valdez) in overtime,” Williams said. “The Highline kid (Crisanto) is pretty good, but I think I can beat him.”
It’s wise not to bet against Williams, a 21-year-old who looks too young to drive but is never too tired to wrestle.
He flew home for Christmas, then returned on the same day of a dual match.
Whitcomb left the match, held at Blaine (Wash.) High School, to pick up Williams after his long flight into Seattle.
“We got back with two matches to spare,” Whitcomb said. “He changed in the car and went out and pinned the kid.”
Williams has embraced American life. He has a wide-eyed look and speaks of the U.S. as the “land of opportunity.”
Opportunities, both good and bad. Several teammates tried to get him to sample chewing tobacco, but Williams declined.
“That’s like smoking,” he laughed. “I just can’t stand the smell.”
He admits part of the reason he doesn’t chew or smoke is because of his devotion to wrestling, though he admits the sport isn’t in the best of shape. In South Africa, high schools don’t offer wrestling.
“Wrestling all over the world is a dying sport,” said Williams, introduced to the sport by his father, who enjoyed it as a youth. “The numbers decline every year, especially where I come from.
“It’s more of a society thing. Not a lot of people watch it. Everybody is into business and wants to make money. There isn’t much money in wrestling.”
But there is irreplaceable satisfaction for grinders like Williams.
“Like anything else in life, when you win, you always keep on doing it,” he says. “It’s a sport that gives you endurance - perseverance actually. You just learn a lot about aspects of life. Sometimes it’s going hard, but you can always come back.
“It’s the hardest sport in the world, but if you can stand for all this training, the winning and the losing, it makes you a better person.”
He should know.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)