Sports: Croughton airman earns spot on Air Force wrestling team, chance at Olympic trials
March 26, 2008
RAF CROUGHTON — Airman 1st Class Dean Maraj likes leaving it all on the wrestling mat, and the Air Force has recognized him for his efforts.
Maraj, of RAF Croughton’s 422nd Communications Squadron, worked his way onto the 2008 Air Force wrestling team this month and earned a possible shot at the Summer Olympics.
Beijing is still a long way away, and Maraj knows it.
First he has to go through the challenge that is the U.S. wrestling national competition next month in Colorado, where the Air Force team will go up against teams from other military branches and universities.
The top eight wrestlers from the nationals will then qualify for the coveted Olympic trials.
Despite his progress, the 20-year-old Yucca Valley, Calif., native is modest about his shot at the Olympics.
“It crosses every wrestler’s mind,” he said. “The average age of the U.S. Greco team is about 30 years old. I’ve got a long way to go.”
Still, he’s made quite a trip already. He had to go through a rigorous process just to make the Air Force team.
About 128 candidates from around the service initially tried out earlier this year, he said, and the coach selected about 30 for the next stage.
At Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, Maraj and those 30 or so other airmen began training. Hard.
For a month, the trial was on, four workouts a day and seven days a week, he said.
After the training, the applicants went at it on the mat, said Maraj, who wrestles in the 60-kilogram (about 132-pound) weight class.
“I found out right there and then,” he said of the wrestling wins against fellow airmen that got him on the team. “It was win or lose. There were a lot of great athletes on the team.”
Maraj said he wrestled in high school, “365 days a year, nonstop,” and that his brothers are wrestlers, too.
“It’s a family thing,” he said.
He also started a wrestling club in the nearby city of Oxford, with young and old wrestlers participating, he said.
“It’s all British,” Maraj said of the club. “We don’t have any Americans right now.”
Tech. Sgt. Frances Shuck, Maraj’s supervisor, said the whole unit is abuzz as Maraj climbs the wrestling ranks.
“It’s just awesome,” she said. “I’ve been in for almost 10 years now, and I’ve never seen anyone go so far in a competition. We’re very proud of him.”
Like anything worth working for, Maraj said he likes wrestling because it requires 100 percent mental and physical dedication.
“If you’re not dedicated to it, you’re not going to do anything,” he said. “You’ve got to give into it, the training and the competition. Whoever trained harder, wins the match.”