Poland Central School junior Adam Travis experienced another culture, stayed in an Olympic training center, hiked through a rainforest and competed in a wrestling tournament during his Columbus Day weekend trip to Puerto Rico.
Travis, 16, traveled with the Mohawk Valley Wrestling Club, which represented USA Wrestling in the Copa Sparta Freestyle Tournament.
Competing in a style of wrestling he just started training in earlier this year with referees who enforce rules differently and opponents who have been training in the style for years, Travis was pinned in both of his matches.
His focus, however, was on the wrestling experience he gained from the additional time on the mat and the mistakes he will now know to avoid going forward. He gained confidence from being able to match the pace of more experienced wrestlers who use a different style.
It also did not hurt that he was in Puerto Rico, where it was warm and sunny almost the entire time he was there.
“It was wonderful,” Travis said. “It would rain for 10 minutes every day, and then it’s back to sunny.”
About 300 wrestlers from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico participated in the tournament. The Mohawk Valley Wrestling Club took third place in the division for ages 13 and 14 and second place in the division for ages 15 and 16.
For the first three days of the trip, Travis stayed in Puerto Rico’s training center for Olympic athletes. During the stay, he was able to tour part of the training center.
The wrestlers slept in bunk beds and had lockers. They also were advised to check their shoes each morning to make sure there were no geckos, tarantulas or cockroaches, he said.
Puerto Rican culture — from its food to its buildings — had an interesting mix of Spanish and American influences, Travis said.
Some things he noticed were that rice was used in all of the food and that the Puerto Ricans he met were very friendly, outgoing and able to either fluently or partially speak English. There also seemed to be different thoughts about personal space in Puerto Rico because residents would walk right up to people and touch someone’s shirt if they liked the shirt, he said.
Parts of two of the days of the trip were spent on Puerto Rican beaches, and one day was spent visiting Old San Juan. That day, the wrestlers stayed at a hotel on a beach about 20 minutes from Old San Juan.
Columbus Day also was widely celebrated in Puerto Rico — with festivities taking place all over the island, Travis said.
“It was everywhere,” he said.
Another activity was hiking through a rainforest to waterfalls, where the wrestlers could go swimming. Almost everything from the trip was a highlight, Travis said.
Page 2 of 2 - “I don’t think there was a minute when I wasn’t smiling,” he said.
Travis said he enjoyed battling against wrestlers from other parts of the world.
“It was a lot of good competition,” he said. “You see their different styles, and you see they make the same mistakes we do.”
The atmosphere was also incredible — with other teams, families, fans and news crews in attendance,he said.
“The crowd really gets into the matches,” he said.
Puerto Rican Jaime Ysept Espinal, who won a silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2012 Olympics in London, trained some of the Puerto Rican wrestlers in the tournament. Espinal made an appearance at the tournament, and Travis got a picture with him.
Travis said he would love to go back to Puerto Rico again. As far as going to tournaments with the Mohawk Valley Wrestling Club, he is hoping to save up money to compete in a tournament in Germany or another country during his senior year of high school.
The varsity wrestling program at Poland began preparing for its fourth season Nov. 5, with the largest team it has ever had, about 15 students.
After wrestling season at Poland, Travis plans to go back to training with the Mohawk Valley Wrestling Club in March.
“There’s pretty much no break, which is perfect for me,” he said. “I like the all-year wrestling.”