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Hooman 'Mo' Tavakolian: Wrestling Diplomacy

Hooman "Mo" Tavakolian

NEW YORK -- Hooman "Mo" Tavakolian never achieved his goals as a competitive wrestler.

He fell short of being a collegiate All-American.

But he's doing more than his part to make sure others have the same opportunity to achieve their dreams. By giving back to wrestling in a huge way, and on a number of fronts.

The 39-year-old Tavakolian, born in Iran and raised primarily in the United States, has emerged as an influential figure in the sport of international wrestling.

"Wrestling is such an awesome sport," he said. "No other sport can bring the world together like wrestling can. It teaches you so many life lessons -- the value of hard work and battling through adversity in pursuing a goal. It taught me to never give up, no matter what the circumstances are. I never had anything handed to me. Wrestling taught me you had to work hard if you wanted to earn anything worthwhile."

Tavakolian manages to balance his involvement in wrestling with his successful career in business. He is a Deputy Chief Compliance Officer at a hedge fund in New York City.

Tavakolian is heavily involved with the New York Athletic Club as a vice president who handles international relations. He also is the director of the annual New York AC wrestling tournament in November.

Tavakolian moved to the United States from Iran when he was 8 years old. The family settled in Great Neck, New York on Long Island.

"Being an Iranian, wrestling is part of the culture -- it is the national sport in Iran," he said. "My family members wrestled. It's a fun thing we did growing up and it's always been in my blood. We were dirt poor when we came to America. My dad encouraged us to try wrestling. That was a way for us to fit in and adapt to being in America. Wrestling helped us adjust to a new culture. And it taught us that if you work hard you can be successful in whatever you do in life."

Tavakolian wrestled under Coach Tom Ryan at the NCAA Division I level at Hofstra University.

Tavakolian has worked as a liaison for the Islamic Republic of Iran during the Senior and Junior World Championships for wrestling, handling sports diplomacy between Iran, the U.S. and other countries from around the world. He also was in attendance at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He became more heavily involved with wrestling during 2013 when the International Olympic Committee Executive Board recommended wrestling be removed from the Olympic Games program.

Wrestling teams from Russia, Iran and the U.S. were brought to New York City for an event in 2013 to promote the saving wrestling effort. The teams met at the United Nations and competed in an event at Grand Central Station in New York.

Tavakolian was involved as an interpreter and a liaison at that event.

"It was amazing to see how those countries came together," he said. "Everyone was united through the sport of wrestling despite political, cultural and religious differences. It was a perfect sign of what sports diplomacy does."

Tavakolian also has spent many years giving back to young people through wrestling.

"I have a huge outreach wrestling program where I provide wrestling gear to kids around the world," he said. "I show them this is a way out of poverty and that they can chase their dreams in wrestling. I send shoes and gear to villages in Iran, Brazil, Romania, Bulgaria and Spain. I also help kids in the U.S. I am a board member at Beat the Streets, which does a lot to help young boys and girls in this country.

"This outreach program I have has been my pride and joy. Making a difference and providing a small opportunity to these kids solidifies my purpose in this sports arena."

Hooman "Mo" Tavakolian at the Beat the Streets event
Tavakolian also played a role in bringing an Iranian team to Times Square for a dual meet against the U.S. in 2016.

Tavakolian received a chance to return to his native Iran as part of a United States team that competed in the World Clubs Cup in Iran in 2014 and 2015. He served as a liaison and interpreter for the American teams that competed in the cities of Jouybar and Tehran.

"It was great having an opportunity to go back to Iran -- they treated me really well and made it feel like home for me," he said. "It was an awesome experience. Events like this create a great opportunity for our athletes, and in promoting our sports and creating dialogue between our nations. There is great fellowship and sportsmanship between the U.S. and Iran in wrestling."

Iranian fans came out in full force when the U.S. competed there, banging drums, playing horns, and clapping while doing rhythmic chants and cheers in supporting their beloved wrestlers.

"The Iranian fans always give me goosebumps," Tavakolian said. "They absolutely love wrestling and support it very enthusiastically. It was always a dream of mine to compete in wrestling in Iran and have the crowd cheering. The crowds are so passionate and knowledgeable. The Iranian crowds also were very welcoming to the American team and showed their appreciation for the U.S. team going there to compete. The fans in Iran appreciate great wrestling, no matter who country you are from. Jordan Burroughs is a prime example of that. They love watching a great champion like Jordan compete and they loved it when he wrestled in Iran (in 2013)."

Hooman "Mo" Tavakolian with Stan Dziedzic and Sonny Greenhalgh
The U.S. team, sponsored by Andy Barth and the Titan Mercury Wrestling Club, finished second at the World Clubs Cup in 2014 and 2015.

"The club championships is a great concept," Tavakolian said. "I am hopeful it will grow and other countries will participate. The prize money is also large, so that helps. Iran has sent a precedent and is leading in promoting the sport. Our sport needs as much publicity as possible and needs to attract big corporate sponsors."

Tavakolian also was honored at the White House in 2016 among a group of "Who's Who of Iranian-Americans." First Lady Michelle Obama was there to honor the group.

"It was very humbling to be a part of that," he said. "I was super honored to be there."

Tavakolian hopes to continue in his role as an international ambassador for the sport. Wrestling is now assured of a spot in the Olympic Games through 2024.

"Wrestling will always be an Olympic sport," Tavakolian said. "It is a big part of civilization and cultures around the world. The USA and Iran are powerful participants of the sport, and the cooperation and joint partnership of these two powerful wrestling cultures creates an effective vehicle to move the sport forward and keep the sport in many more Olympics. The USA Wrestling community has been very proactive in promoting the sport and the federation does a great job. All ages and levels are involved with the sport and keep the sport alive. We just need more media coverage and more corporate sponsorship."

Hooman "Mo" Tavakolian next to Rasoul Khadem (right)
Tavakolian said he has been fortunate to work with some of the most influential people in the sport.

"I've been able to sit at the table with some of the greats of this sport and work with legends like Rasoul Khadem, Alireza Rezaei, Dan Gable and Cael Sanderson and many more," he said. "I hope we continue to build bridges and move forward through wrestling. I have so much respect for the art of wrestling. It has no borders and because of wrestling I have made so many friendships around the world."

Another goal Tavakolian has is to bring the Iranians to the annual NYAC tournament that he runs.

"I hope I can have Iran compete there one day," he said. "It would be an honor to host them, and have a country with a rich wrestling culture like theirs compete in a rich historic club like the New York Athletic Club."

Tavakolian played an important role in Iran's three-year campaign to gain a seat in the United World Wrestling Bureau. Those efforts paid off in September 2016 when Iran's Rasoul Khadem won a seat unanimously.

"I am very happy that Iran gets a seat at the table, and with the help of other countries such as the USA, they can unite and combat the issues and conflicts that are harming our sport," Tavakolian said. "I am humbled to be part of the equation."

Tavakolian also somehow finds time to raise his young family. He and his wife, Lorelei, have two sons, Navid, 6, and Nima, 3, and one daughter, Nikki, 9 months.

Tavakolian said he is grateful for the opportunities he's been afforded in the sport.

"I was born in Iran and I grew up in America, and I am an Iranian American," he said. "I am very proud of being a part of both countries and both cultures.

"In my life, I never chased titles. I love the sport of wrestling and what it stands for. It brought me out of poverty. I want to do the same for other kids. This whole journey has been amazing for me. I hope to impact so many lives through this great sport."

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Mama Rose (1) about 2 years ago
Excellent article. Am very proud of my s-i-l