BEREA, OHIO -- Baldwin Wallace University senior and Fairview Park resident and Fairview High School graduate Tyler Keating had a once-in-a-lifetime experience when he traveled to Russia with two Yellow Jacket coaches and ten of his teammates on a cultural exchange in early June.
Keating and the members of the Ohio Athletic Conference-champion Yellow Jacket wrestling team were joined by members of a few other Division III collegiate teams and experienced Russian culture and food, its pace of life while also having the opportunity to travel in and around Moscow and train and compete against some of the top Russian and Venezuelan coaches and wrestlers.
"This was an experience of a lifetime for our young student-athletes," said BW Head Coach Jamie Gibbs, who led BW to the 2016 OAC title (its first since 1973), an all-time best second place finish at the NCAA Divisionn III Mideast Regional Tournament and was named as the OAC Coach of the Year."
Keating, a sport management major who is contemplating a career in sport facility management and operations, felt the most important part of the trip was getting to know his Russian counterparts.
"Most of the Russians who we trained with and competed against were between the ages of 18 and 25," said Keating, who wrestles at 197 pounds for BW and is a two-year letterman. "Despite speaking little or no English, it was amazing to us how similar they are to us in terms of the things that they think about, including work, school, food and women.
"The politics are the obvious difference that we see in the media," said Keating, who had an 11-8 record this past season as the Yellow Jacket back up at 197 pounds. "One of the other differences is their relaxed approach to things, particularly time.
"In the U.S., we are more regimented with our time schedules whereas the Russians plan something and then do it whenever they feel like it. This relaxed attitude means they do some of the same things that we do but at a later time frame. An example is that we would often eat lunch around 3 or 4 p.m. and dinner around 8 or 9 p.m."
The wrestling also is a bit different, according to Keating. There are three major differences he noticed.
"One, in the U.S., we mainly compete in folkstyle, and the Russians practice freestyle and Greco-Roman," said Keating. "American wrestlers start at various ages and usually somewhere between age five-to-15. All Russians start at a younger age and usually between three and five years old.
"Two, American wrestlers also are more about intensity, strength and conditioning and overpowering their opponent," continued Keating. "The Russians focus purely on technique, spending 3-to-5 minutes on one move or technique before moving on to the next one. Strength is not a problem for them because they have "jungle gyms" and gymnastics equipment available to them, and their food is healthier.
"Three, the Russian wrestlers are more defensive and utilize more throws and counter shots while Americans are more aggressive and use more headlocks and leg attacks."
While in Russia, the BW grapplers had the opportunity to train and compete with Jose Diaz, an Olympian from Venezuela as well as Russian and Bulgarian Olympic prospects. The cool part is that Keating and some of his Yellow Jacket teammates stay in touch with Diaz, the Cultural Exchange Tour Guide, known as George, Isla, one of the Russian competitors and some of the Russian coaches.
"The food is roughly the same as ours, only fresher and more organic, cheaper in price and overall better for you nutritionally," said Keating. "I lost almost 20 pounds while in Russia and I did not feel worse because of the food."
The Yellow Jackets had available time to tour the area surrounding it training camp and enjoy the "banya" or bathhouse/ sauna, play a much-rougher version of Russian basketball and enjoy themselves in the evening with games of cards and just general talk.
The Russian basketball games were quite interesting, according to Keating's teammate and 2016 BW graduate David Shapiro.
"The games were very physical and involve no dribbling and a lot of tackling," said Shapiro, who was an NCAA Division III national qualifier in 2014 and penned a "blog" while on the trip that you can view on the BW Athletics web site. "As you can expect, as the game went on the play got a little chippy!"
In addition, the BW grapplers got to spend some time touring the city of Moscow and some of its famed sites such as Red Square, churches/ cathedrals and malls.
"This was an experience I, and my teammates who were able to travel, will never forget," said Keating.
Another item of note from Shapiro was how the Russians drive their vehicles.
"While we were touring, we definitely noticed that the Russians drive differently than we do," said Shapiro with a wide grin. "The driving is pretty reckless and we had a difficult time learning the rules of the road."
Overall, Keating, like Shapiro, felt that the trip was a great learning experience from a number of perspectives.
"The trip showed me how a society which is different than ours still views and supports their favorite sports in the same way," said Keating. "Russians treat their wrestlers the same way Americans treat their football, basketball and baseball players. "Their wrestlers receive the best food, training and coaching and are often treated with the same respect as soldiers and the elite.
"When we spent free time with the Russians it was full of laughs," said Shapiro. "We joked around with each other, just as we would with our American friends. We talked about girls, "smack" about wrestling each other, and sang the words to songs we all knew.
"Most of us didn't know what to expect when we went to Russia," continued Shapiro. "But from our time there, we all agreed that it doesn't matter where we came from, because we are all young athletes living life, and that is a beautiful thing."
Now back in the U.S., Keating has turned his focus to his senior year and his senior season this winter.
"I am certainly focused on our team goals first of winning another OAC title, having a Top-20 team grade point average, break the dual match win record again and of course win as many tournament titles as possible and be able to compete and win the NCAA Division III national title.
"Individually, I want to have a great senior season, be a team leader, help to mentor our younger wrestlers, win as many matches as possible, be an Academic All-American (BW has more CoSIDA Academic All-Americans that any other Division III school in Ohio and ranks 11th nationally) and hopefully win a national title.
"My wrestling experience has been amazing so far," said Keating with a big smile. "I have the best teammates in the world, many of whom are my best friends [now and probably for the rest of my life]. And, I can safely say I have the best coach and assistant coaches in the nation.
"I also want to thank my parents, who are my biggest supporters," said Keating. "Not many kids can tell their parents that they are going to train and compete in a country that has not received a lot of good media attention over the past few years, and that you need a few thousand dollars to do it!
"We did it, and it was unbelievable," said Keating.