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Rowing and Wrestling are two very different sports. Wrestling is very individual. Wrestling is two strong, angry, muscular men on a mat. Both men want to be alone on the mat. Only one will be. When you’ve been one of those men, you learn to take care of yourself and you learn fast.

Rowing on the other hand is possibly the only true team endurance sport in collegiate athletics. Unlike the relays that exist in running and swimming where athletes take turns participating, in rowing, a team of eight men or women must operate simultaneously and in perfect unison. Rowers must rely on each other completely throughout a race. Success depends utterly on teamwork and togetherness.

Rowing and Wrestling are two very different sports, but they also have some shared DNA. Rowing and wrestling both demand incredible toughness from their participants. Rowing pushes athletes to the very brink of utter exhaustion and requires even more in exchange for a spot on the podium. Rowers wake up early and train for long hours doing a monotonous, often joyless task, and they do it with a smile on their face. Or they quit. In rowing you have to learn how to be miserable, how to walk into the pain cave and get comfortable. Those who can’t, don’t call themselves rowers. Max Evans is a rower.

Wrestlers enjoy a different variety of suffering; one that is purposefully inflicted upon them by their opponent. Wrestlers are familiarized with this pain every day, at every practice and in every competition. Those who can’t handle the pain, don’t call themselves wrestlers anymore. Those who can handle it can be identified by the trademark cauliflower ear that any wrestler worth his weight is proud to wear openly on both sides. Roman Romero is a wrestler.

“A fair question to ask is how exactly were a rower and a wrestler prepared to volunteer effectively in such an environment like Nomzamo?”

Yet the sports are similar for another reason.  Neither is commonly practiced in the township of Nomzamo, in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, the community where Max Evans and Roman Romero taught a sports camp for two weeks through the Rubenstein-Bing ACE program. The children there are far more interested in soccer (they call it football), rugby or netball.

A fair question to ask is how exactly were a rower and a wrestler prepared to volunteer effectively in such an environment like Nomzamo? How would a rower and wrestler be able to work together? First of all, both sports have a culture of discipline that has ingrained leadership ability in both student-athletes. Rowing and wrestling are sports filled with hard-core people. Hard-core coaches, hard-core athletes. Roman and Max definitely fall well on the more lighthearted and jovial end of the spectrum, but both still possess the ability to be clear and stern in situations that call for it. Both student-athletes know how to work without complaint and stay focused for long periods of time. While running a sports camp with children these skill are essential.

Secondly, both rowing and wrestling are unique in that they require a very in-depth understanding and familiarity with biomechanics, which makes for coaches who are adept at helping younger athletes who lack this understanding. Rowing and wrestling are two technique-heavy sports. In wrestling, there is no ball or stick or equipment, all you have is your body, so wrestlers must learn how to be extremely physically aware. Wrestlers must understand very complex physical movement with intense detail. And not only their own physical movements, but the movement of another person’s body. This makes it easy for a wrestler like Roman to identify issues in a young athlete’s biomechanics, like the way he dribbles a soccer ball or shoots a netball or tosses a rugby ball, without requiring as complex an understanding of the other sports.

Rowers have a similar focus on precision when it comes to biomechanics due to the fact that a rower must be able to synchronize perfectly with the other members of his boat. A rower must understand how to watch an athlete and mimic his movements exactly, or explain to him what he’s doing wrong in a manner that can be understood. This skill is honed over hours and hours (and hours) in a boat and grants him similar abilities when it comes to coaching. At first glance, a rower and a wrestler might not seem like ideal athletes to teach soccer, rugby and netball in South Africa but upon closer examination its revealed that they’re far more capable than they might seem.

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