Mike Ellsworth grew up in Caro, MI, population @4500. He was a four-time state high school wrestling finalist and a two-time state champ with a record of 198-19-2. Since graduating from the University of Michigan in 1995, Mike has been one of the top Greco-Roman wrestlers in the United Sates for the past decade, currently he is ranked sixth in U.S. Senior Greco-Roman Rankings.
Mike also wrestled in Real Pro Wrestling Season 1 were he was a member of the Pennsylvania Hammer at 66kg. "RPW is going to explode," said Mike. "I look forward to wrestling in Season 2 and helping the league grow."
Mike has wrestled in and won tournaments in thirty- four different countries around the world.
In February of 2003 Mike took one of the most important trips of his life. Not only was Mike representing the USA at a prestigious wrestling tournament, he became an Ambassador for peace between two nations divided for over twenty years. Destination: Iran.
The relations between the United States and Iran began to deteriorate after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the subsequent taking over of the United States Embassy in Tehran by Islamic students.
In America's eyes, November 4, 1979 marked the beginning of the Islamic Republic's state sponsorship of terrorism. The well-organized attackers took 52 American members of the staff hostage and held them for 444 days. By the time the incident ended, in January 1981, the United States had severed diplomatic ties with Iran. The world held its breath as Islamic-Western tension was explosively launched.
As the United States accuses Iran of state support for terrorism, and Iran adamantly denies the charge, it can be difficult to judge the merits of each side's arguments. Many of the actions fueling the debate have taken place in an atmosphere of extreme secrecy and with few publicly known details.
In order for the two countries to break the "wall of mistrust, "continual positive effort is needed. Steps in this direction have taken place at various levels from government to individuals including: people-to-people contact, cultural and sports exchanges.
Mike Ellsworth was lucky enough to participate in a sports exchange with Iran. Here is an excerpt of his experience.
Before you read on I would like you to stop for a moment and get a pen and paper. Take a moment to jot down the answers to these two questions based on your knowledge of Iran.
What does Iran look like? Describe it as if you were driving down the highway looking out the window.
What is your understanding of their people and their sentiment towards the United States
At the end of this article compare your answers with Mikes story and see how similar or different they are.
"I flew into Germany and had to catch another Flight to Iran," said Mike. "While I was in Germany, a press release of my total itinerary was published. I was already nervous about going to Iran in the first place and now anyone that wanted to engage in foul play knew my every move. I was at the gate ready to board the plane to Tehran; It was the last chance I had to back out."
"I arrived in Tehran at around 2:30 am," said Mike. "When I got off the plane there were lines of people on the tarmac, around two hundred or more Iranians were there to greet me. They were shaking my hand, taking pictures and giving me flowers. There were older, famous Iranian wrestlers there as well. They had signs that said, "WE LOVE AMERICANS." It was unbelievable how welcoming these people were, how very pro-American they were. I was expecting to get all kinds of negative treatment; I was expecting the worst, man was I wrong. Also, the three major news channels from Iran were there to interview me."
"Everywhere I went I was treated first class," said Mike. "I was in my hotel room waiting to go to weigh-ins and I was getting a little nervous I was going to miss them. It was so close to the time they were going to start and we were a little ways away from the venue. When our ride finally came we went downstairs and there were police on motorcycles waiting to escort us to the venue. When I got to the venue I noticed they had held everyone from weighing in until we got there. They brought us to the front of the line and let us go first. After we were finished everyone else was allowed to weigh in; I had never seen that before."
"At the tournament I never had a free moment," said Mike. "The fans kept coming up to me and shaking my hand, wanting to take pictures of me and get my autograph. On the second day of the tournament I noticed someone selling pictures of me in the stands. Right before the finals match my opponent came up to me and asked to take a picture with me. I had never taken so many pictures in my life."
How did Mike do you ask?
In the preliminary rounds Mike beat the #1 and #2 ranked Iranian wrestlers. In the finals Mike had a come from behind victory over Azerbaijan. "In the finals the whole crowd was chanting USA "USA, it was awesome," Said Mike.
Mike's journey did not end there. "We had a seven-hour car ride to the airport through the Iranian countryside," said Mike. "I never thought Iran was so beautiful. Everything you see or hear about in the news never represents what I saw I my trip through Iran. It was a cross between green rolling hills, pastures, desert and rock formations. It was like a cross between Oregon, Utah, Michigan and Colorado."
"Before I went to Iran I thought All Iranians hated Americans, Said Mike. "This trip was an eye opener for me on how the media skews the perception of reality with the control on the content that is distributed to the public."
"It was one of the best trips of my life," said Mike. "The people from Iran were very happy that we came to their country to wrestle. They were also looking forward to more American Wrestlers coming over to wrestle. One of the Iranians I met told me I was always welcome in his country; I am glad I went."
Ironically, the Takhti Cup, a free-style and Greco-Roman competition, is held each February to commemorate Iran's 1979 revolution. It has taken almost twenty years for this hammer-hold of hostility to be broken - through ritual struggle. Wrestling, in other words. Wrestling diplomacy provided an excellent example of how governmental and non-governmental processes can overlap and interact.
Mike Ellsworth went to Iran to wrestle in the Takhti Cup, a very prestigious Iranian wrestling tournament. He left the Takhti Cup champion and an ambassador of peace with a greater understanding of a nation that has forever changed his life.
Coaches Corner with Mike Ellsworth:
For the kids
Practice harder than anyone else. Be in the best condition.
For the parents
Always be supportive. Listen and communicate with your kids. Parents don't always know what is best for their kids on the mat.
For other coaches
All wrestlers are different. There are different styles for different wrestlers. Develop a wrestler's personal style