MARQUETTE—The United States Olympic Education Center announced Greco-Roman wrestler Harry Lester of Akron, Ohio, as its athlete of the year for 2006-07. This is the second time Lester has received the award, as he earned the honor for the 2004-05 season.
“It’s always good to be recognized by peers and administrative staff,” said Lester. “It lets me know people see the hard work I put in.”
Lester was the Greco-Roman program’s athlete of the fall 2006 semester. He started the year with a bang, claiming bronze at the World Championships in Changzhou, China. He defeated Seref Eroglu of Turkey 4-3, 4-3 in the 66-kilogram medal round. Lester also won silver at the Turneul International tournament in Brasov, Romania. In the championship round, he dropped a 3-1, 3-2 match to Russia’s 2004 Olympian Maxim Semenov.
“Harry wrestled like a true warrior,” said USA Wrestling’s national Greco-Roman coach Steve Fraser.
Just as everything was coming together for a successful season, however, Lester suffered a shoulder injury that took him off the mat. The injury kept him out of the Sunkist International tournament.
By the winter semester, he worked his way back into competitive condition. He defeated 2006 world champion Li Yanyan of China at the Chicago Cup 4-1, 6-0.
Shortly after the competition, however, tragedy struck as deaths occurred in Lester’s family. Further family problems kept him out of the ASICS United States National Wrestling Championships.
Lester may have been down, but he wasn’t out. He used the challenges he faced to motivate him. He let the wrestling world know he wasn’t going anywhere but the medal podium.
Lester came back to dominate the Greco and freestyle divisions at the University National Championships. Despite wrestling a weight class higher and his lack of training in freestyle for the last five years, Lester took first in both the 70-kg class of the Greco division and the 74-kg class of the freestyle division. He was also named the Greco division’s outstanding wrestler.
On his way to gold, he pinned Northern Michigan University junior Tim Bleau of Ishpeming in 38 seconds in the Greco championship match. In the freestyle finals, he beat three-time NCAA All-American Travis Paulson 3-0, 0-2, 3-0. His achievements were recognized as the Sawyer International Airport elite performance of the month in April.
Lester’s rollercoaster year may have left some athletes reeling, but it has given him new focus.
“I’m most proud of getting back into training after everything this year,” said Lester. “It gives me a reason to wrestle—especially with the deaths in my family.”
Outside of the wrestling arena, Lester managed to complete his bachelor’s degree in history at NMU, where he also plans to attend graduate school in the fall.
“I’m the first person in my family to graduate from college,” said Lester. “Everyone in my family was excited to see me graduate. It was good for my parents to see me walk across the stage—I did it for my mom because of all the support she’s given to me.”
With a degree in hand and recent national rankings showing Lester maintaining his No. 1 position at 66 kg for the second consecutive year, expectations are high. He’s primed to defend his spot on the U.S. World Team at the World Team Trials next month and to earn a position on the 2008 Olympic Team.
2006 U.S. World Team coach Shawn Sheldon recognizes Lester’s potential, “He is intense. He’s powerful. He will be around a long time.”
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