From underdog to top dog, Malmstrom wrestler trains for Olympics

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Emerald Ralston
  • 341st Space Wing Public Affairs Office
Airman 1st Class Andrew Perez, 341st Security Forces Group tactical response force member, has been making his way around the country with the Air Force wrestling team, Armed Forces wrestling team and is now headed to train to represent the Air Force at the Olympics. 

Airman Perez has been wrestling from the time he was 5 until he attended college, but after a two-and-a-half-year break, he decided to pick the sport back up. 

"I'd been wrestling since I was 5," Airman Perez said. "I wasn't good at all at first, and I didn't like the sport because I didn't like to lose. In middle school I got a little better, then one day - almost overnight it seemed - I was suddenly good." 

Airman Perez wrestled his freshman year in high school and took fifth place in a state-wide competition. 

"It wasn't predicted that I would place at all, but the underdog came around," Airman Perez said. 

Upon graduation from high school, he was sent to college on a wrestling scholarship, but once he realized he didn't quite know what to do with his college career, he decided to leave college and join the Air Force. 

"Wrestling wasn't what life was all about," he said. "I decided I might as well serve my country while I decided what to do and it just so happened that now I can get the best of both worlds - military and wrestling." 

Airman Perez looked into the Air Force wrestling team after a co-worker of his, Tech. Sgt. Clayton Thomas, 341st SFG TRF, told him about it. 

"Sergeant Thomas helped me out a lot, and Master Sgt. Carmen Kubiak [341st Services Squadron fitness center superintendent] helped me get into it, and my unit supported me," Airman Perez said. 

Airman Perez went to Idaho first, where he said he got off to a rough start, as he fractured his ribs and nose in his first month of training. After he healed up, he headed to New Orleans for an Armed Forces competition where all branches of the military compete against each other. 

"I placed third out of four in that competition," he said with a laugh. "But for some reason the coach said he saw potential in me and wanted me to stay on. That's when we went to Colorado Springs to train at the Olympic Training Center, followed by the Ohio National's, where I placed fourth." 

After placing fourth nationally, Airman Perez said he saw himself getting better and even surprised himself. 

"Once again I was the underdog, it felt like freshman year again with all these people telling me not to be disappointed if I didn't place," he said. "But I went out and decided to prove them wrong. I actually lost my first match, which is the worst because you have to wrestle back twice as hard after that. I got back into it though, and placed eighth. A lot of people were surprised." 

Now Airman Perez is trying out for the Olympics and is currently training again in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center. 

"The best part of this whole thing is just the experience," he said. "I have met a lot of great people and it's just a cool experience to get in that match and take each challenge one by one. You have someone out there to beat you and you have to go out and show them what you're made of." 

While the good certainly outweighs the bad for Airman Perez, he said the worst part is dropping weight and making it into the weight class. 

He described the strict process of making weight by cutting back food consumption 10 days before a tournament. 

"We eat eggs for breakfast, a ham sandwich for lunch, chicken and rice for dinner, and a salad thrown in there somewhere," he said. "Before breakfast and lunch we go on a two-mile run, along with using the elliptical machines and stationary bikes. Before dinner we practice for two hours and wrestle hard, then use the sauna in 10-minute increments for about an hour. And we drink a lot of water." 

But even that strict regimen is worth it to Airman Perez and he doesn't mind the discipline. 

As he continues wrestling for the Air Force, he doesn't lose sight of what is really important. 

"I'm very proud, most of all, to be able to represent the Air Force at this level," he said. "I feel it shows my dedication and willingness to overcome obstacles. I really feel doing this has helped me progress as an Airman because it's the day-to-day challenges you have to overcome to be a true American Airman."