MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
The crowd cheers as two wrestlers grapple and slam each other trying to get the upper hand on their opponent. One competitor hooks the other in a bear hug, slams him to the mat, and covers him for the pin.
This was the scene during a practice session for the All-Marine wrestling team at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune’s wrestling room May 9.
Lance Cpl. Steven T. Smiley, the only Cherry Point Marine on the All-Marine wrestling team, has been wrestling for more than 13 years, since he was in third grade, and will be wrestling in the 163-pound weight class.
“I feel so alive when I am wrestling,” said Smiley. “It takes your top physical and mental toughness to compete at this level. I love the feeling of accomplishment I get when I win a match.”
When Smiley isn’t wrestling, he serves as an AV-8B Harrier mechanic with Marine Attack Squadron 542. While Smiley was deployed to Japan with VMA-542, the last thing he could have imagined happening was being scouted by a wrestling coach.
Then he met Maj. Dan Hicks, the All-Marine wrestling coach.
“I went on my yearly scouting tour of the West Coast and overseas when I found Smiley in Iwakuni,” said Hicks. “I held a wrestling clinic and he just shined. No one at that clinic could touch Smiley, and I told him to get in contact with me when he returned from his deployment.”
When Smiley returned from his deployment in January, he contacted Hicks and got everything rolling to be able to join the wrestling team.
“Going from working on Harriers to hitting the mats twice a day is a real change of pace,” said Smiley.
Smiley said the way he works out and trains is designed to help prepare him for upcoming meets.
“Our coach has us on a training schedule where you will peak at the top of your game in the time frame of a meet,” said Smiley. “After a meet you take a few days off and take it easy for a few days, like a pyramid.”
Smiley said he finds his inspiration to continue to work hard from the man who motivated him growing up.
“My high school wrestling coach was a very inspiring person for me and my wrestling career,” said Smiley. “He knew how to push me to train for this lifestyle I am dedicated to. He taught me a lot about myself and the sport of wrestling.”
Smiley said his rookie season with the team will be dedicated to his high school wrestling coach and the aspect of mental toughness.
“My high school coach always said that a person can always build physical strength,” said Smiley. “However, when you are in the third period and you are on your back you have to be able to use that mental toughness to push through and get the escape. His words still ring true this day. ‘Work through the pain and dig deep to get it done.’ That one piece of advice has helped me get to where I am today.”
Inspiration isn’t the only thing keeping Smiley striving to be a better wrestler. He said his teammates’ enthusiasm and living the life of a Marine contributes to his overall performance as a wrestler.
“When I see one of my teammates on the mat slamming guys around, it pushes me to do that much better,” said Smiley. “It makes me think about being the best I can be for my team as well as the Marine Corps. As a Marine this is my job now. So to continue to push the envelope in my wrestling career is not only a passion of mine but also a way for me to continue to give back to an organization that has done so much for me. This is my duty to the Marine Corps, and I am happy to serve it by doing something I absolutely love.”
Hicks said he feels Smiley has a great toughness and is willing to work hard to be the best he can and put forth his utmost effort.
“Smiley has a ton of potential,” said Hicks. “The sky is the limit for this Marine, and he is one person I know I can give a beating to and he will keep coming back for more. He is a valuable asset and he works hard.”