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The 53-year-old wins first place at a national wrestling tournament

HERALD PHOTO - A Canby Herald story

Some think of wrestling as a sport reserved mostly for collegians, youth and outsized television actors.

Canby resident Monty Graham proves otherwise.

Graham, 53 years old, wrestles year round and annually prospers at a national wrestling tournament.

Graham doesn't remember exactly why he started wrestling at age 14, but says his disinterest in basketball may have played a part.

"My dad let me try it out and I haven't stopped since," he said.

He then competed for Clackamas Community College for two years before joining the United States Army in 1983.

Graham competed in wrestling tournaments while at Fort Hood but stopped wrestling for awhile until he left the service in 1997.

Then, he served as an assistant coach at Milwaukie High School.

In the late '90s, while grappling, Graham's old coach told him about the US Masters Freestyle and Greco Roman national tournament in Las Vegas. At the time, Graham was 34 years old – exactly the cut off age for participation.

Nearly every year since, save for a few years when work intervened, Graham and his friend Steve make the trip.

The first year, Graham competed in the freestyle division and lost both of his matches. But he didn't get discouraged and subsequently achieved marked success.

Graham has placed second twice and third 12 times in freestyle and accumulated two third place finishes and one first place finish in Greco Roman.

And he won the Greco Roman title earlier this year – just a couple years after taking up the wrestling form for the first time.

The Greco Roman bracket is less populated than the freestyle bracket so Graham was able to earn the title via just a couple victories. And in the final match his opponent had to forfeit due to injury.

Graham was disappointed not to get another match in.

"It was kind of disappointing. The other two men that I wrestled had already beat this guy. I felt pretty confident I was going to be winning anyway but I don't take anything for granted," Graham said.

During the year, he and Steve practice four times a week for an hour and a half to three hours.

They work on their double leg takedown, single leg takedown, front choke hold, head snaps and myriad techniques.

"We'll just keep working until our techniques turn into muscle memory, until we feel it's automatic," Graham said.

Graham describes his wrestling style as aggressive and says he usually wins matches via technical fall – meaning he's better at scoring points than pinning opponents.

"I try to be more aggressive. I'm looking for something to set up, single leg, double leg. With Greco Roman, I'm trying to move the person around and set up a lock and throw," he said.

Sometimes they practice against college kids and surprise the more spry wrestlers with their physicality and tact.

"The kids look at us and think 'That old guy can't do anything.' Then they start wrestling and you go 'Holy crap,'" Graham said.

Graham has mostly remained healthy through the years – suffering just a few shoulder injuries as well as bumps and bruises.

And he doesn't plan to quit anytime soon.

When asked how long he plans to wrestler, he said: "Until I die I hope. It's the only thing that keeps me in shape."

When Graham and Steve go to Vegas, they're all business – focusing mostly on wrestling while ignoring the glitz – but do ritually listen to music and sip on a Coke in a piano bar at New York New York Hotel and Casino.

Though Steve's torn rotator cuff could leave him sidelined, Graham envisions making a run at the international Masters competition one day, which is typically held in Europe.

But, the main reason Graham returns to the mat isn't national or international trips or the accolades – but the affirmation that, after all these years, he's still got it.

"As you get older you're trying to prove you still have something. It gives me a sense of satisfaction that I can still do this. I may not be as fast as I was before but I'm still limber enough to move and have enough stamina to keep going," he said.

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