by Faye Rapoport
Greco-Roman wrestling is no picnic for any part of the body. Athletes in this sport risk injuries that can happen with any kind of hard training, but they also have to face an opponent who is, as Olympian Jim Gruenwald puts it, “trying to beat you up.”
Gruenwald participated in many sports before he focused on wrestling. But once he decided on one sport, he stuck with hit. Gruenwald has trained and competed for 24 years toward his current rank as the Number 1 USA Greco-Roman wrestler at 60kg/132lb. His list of accomplishments include competing in the Sydney and Athens Olympics and winning the 2003-04 U.S. Nationals, the 1998 and 2003 Pan American Championships and the 2002 World Cup. In November of 2004 he was named USA Today’s Athlete of the Week after winning the final at the Sunkist Kids/Arizona State University International Open at age 34.
Gruenwald has also started wrestling with Real Pro Wrestling, a professional league that provides wrestlers an opportunity to compete in a professional atmosphere comparable to the NFL, MLB and NBA. The league consists of eight teams from around the country made up of seven different weight classes.
Gruenwald talked to Foot.com about his training, some of the differences between Greco-Roman and Real Pro Wrestling, and the potential for foot injuries in this very challenging sport.
Foot.com: How long have you been wrestling, and how did wrestling become your chosen sport?
Gruenwald: I have been wrestling for 24 years total, with 12 years being with USA Wrestling and one year with Real Pro Wrestling. Wrestling became my chosen sport after much trial and error in my participation of almost every other sport.
Foot.com: What has been the highlight of your wrestling career so far?
Gruenwald: I have a few highlights that I can point to: winning two National titles, wrestling in two Olympics, winning the World Cup, or winning the PanAm Championships. If I had to choose from the above I suppose it would be my performance at the World Cup.
Foot.com: How does training for wrestling differ from other sports?
Gruenwald: Wrestling is comparable to a chess match between grandmasters where your heart rate is above 180 beats per minute. You have to train the mind and the body to function and excel while someone is trying to beat you up.
Foot.com: Do you do any specific exercises for your feet or lower legs?
Gruenwald: I have to occasionally work with thera-bands to help my ankles. I put my ankles through a variety of active-motion exercises to strengthen and stabilize them.
Foot.com: In some martial arts, like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, control in the lower legs and feet is very important. Is it the same with wrestling?
Gruenwald: In Greco-Roman, which has been my primary sport, the control is more position specific than hands-on control. This is due to the fact that in Greco we are not allowed to attack our opponent below the waist. However, with Real Pro Wrestling(RPW) ankle laces are allowed where direct control of the lower legs and feet is key to turning an opponent. As I make the switch from Greco to RPW it will become important for me to hone the old skills of low leg attacks that have gone unused over the years in Greco.
Foot.com: What kind of footwear do you wear for training and competing?
Gruenwald: Asics is the main sponsor for USA Wrestling, so I have worn their shoes for the last 12 years.
Foot.com: Are there any specific foot injuries that wrestlers have to watch out for, and how do you try to prevent them?
Gruenwald: Since wrestling is a contact sport, the potential for injuries to every part of the body exists. Just a few months ago a buddy of mine at the Olympic Training Center was thrown, landed poorly and broke his foot. I damaged the ligaments, joint, and bone of my right big toe by driving it into concrete after countering an opponent and going off the mat. The best way for us to prevent injuries is to not give the other guy a chance to hurt us or put us into a position that would allow for injury.
Foot.com: Have you ever had any other foot or lower leg injuries? If so, how did you treat them?
Gruenwald: Yes, I broke my ankle (avulsion fracture) and sprained the ankle on every side when my foot lost a battle kicking a soccer ball in 1995. I was playing in an indoor league to get some cross training in. I treated the injury foolishly. I did the minimal rehab required with ice and stimulation. Basically I iced the swelling and used electrical stimulation to reduce the swelling as well. Once the swelling went down I stopped. I did some balance work as well as trying to strengthen the joint. I wore a brace (an active ankle brace) and started wrestling when the pain became bearable enough to do so. I still suffer the bad effects of my stupidity to this day.
Foot.com: What are your future goals in wrestling?
Gruenwald: I am taking wrestling year to year and sometimes day to day. I am 34 years old and have a wife and two kids. I would love to accomplish my last two wrestling goals of winning a World Championship and an Olympics; however, I have had a very successful career and have never walked off the mat not doing my best or trying my hardest. So I have no shame in loss, only brief sadness. Depending on how this year goes, I may retire from Greco and continue my career in Real Pro Wrestling. The potential opportunities that exist in RPW would make it a lot easier to provide for my family and allow me to do what I love-wrestle.
Foot.com: Thank you for your time and good luck!