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Wrestler exchange programs offer unbeatable international experiences

Wrestlers from New Zealand visited Carmel, Ind.

No doubt about it: wrestling is very much a global sport.

Some wrestlers get to participate in international tournaments, see the world, and make friends well beyond their hometowns.

The cool thing is, these opportunities aren't limited to uber-talented mat superstars. Any wrestler can expand his or her horizons on and off the mat, thanks to wrestler exchange programs.

InterMat recently talked to Ed Pendoski, wrestling coach in suburban Indianapolis who is actively involved in wrestler exchange programs that make it possible for local wrestlers to compete with fellow athletes -- and experience new cultures -- well beyond what they would normally experience on a typical road trip on a school bus to a local dual meet or tournament here in the U.S.

Ed Pendoski
Coach Pendoski: Your guide to exchange programs

Ed Pendoski is an Indiana native, through and through. He first took up wrestling as a youngster in northwest Indiana, then continued his academic and athletic career in his home state at Purdue University. Pendoski launched his coaching career at Purdue, then remained in Indiana to coach at Portage High School, where, in eleven seasons, his teams compiled an overall record of 327-27, with eight individual state champs and eight wrestlers who went on to Division I programs.

Seven years ago, Pendoski took on two new assignments at once: becoming wrestling coach at Carmel High School, a 5,500-student school located in the northern suburbs of Indianapolis ... and launching Carmel USA Wrestling Club, which can claim 11 Indiana state championships medalists, and numerous athletes that have gone on to compete at the collegiate level.

One of the hallmarks of Pendoski's Carmel USA Wrestling Club is its participation in international wrestler exchange programs, offering opportunities for local wrestlers to travel to other countries ... as well as hosting athletes from outside the U.S. All with the idea of experiencing new competitive opportunities, expand their personal knowledge of the world, and make new friends well beyond the Midwest.

"I've participated in exchanges with three different nations," Pendoski told InterMat. "We've hosted Turkey and Japan twice in the past. And just this summer, we welcomed wrestlers from New Zealand for the very first time." (True to the definition of "exchange", Pendoski took nearly half of his club's wrestlers to New Zealand prior to this summer's exchange where they hosted the New Zealanders.)

The three New Zealanders, who range in age from 20 to 31, stayed at Pendoski's home.

"We're all on a first-name basis," said Pendoski. "They have guys who are very talented but some of their training partners aren't quite as good, and don't provide as much of a quality workout/training session as they can get here."

"The business model is so simple"

How does the wrestler exchange program work?

"The business model is so simple," according to Pendoski. "The host is responsible for providing accommodations for their guests as well as their meals. The visiting wrestlers pay for their airfare."

"It's normal to be a bit hesitant about participating if you haven't done it before. However, hosting is the easiest thing to do. After all, the wrestling family is truly international."

Pendoski pointed out that the Indiana State Wrestling Association has a state cultural director (Lou Silverman) who sets up cultural exchange trips. (Your state association may have similar resources, or be able to put you in touch with coaches who have participated in international exchange programs.)

Pendoski also said cultural exchanges work well, no matter how many wrestlers participate. "We've had success with setting up what I'd call 'mini-trips' with fewer athletes -- say, two or three wrestlers."

"Our club's long-term goal is to connect with and make friends with other clubs in other countries, especially when the numbers are small."

"Our community understands the value of international travel," Pendoski added.

Coach Pendoski is not only a believer, but also a long-time participant. In fact, Pendoski was introduced to the idea of wrestler exchange programs as a young coach.

"I got to go to Turkey in the 1990s," said Pendoski. "I read at least three books before getting on the plane."

Since that first overseas exchange trip nearly three decades ago, Pendoski is still a strong believer in the value of wrestlers experiencing the world. Not just to gain new opportunities to compete on the world stage ... but also to experience new cultures and make new friends.

To learn more about the Carmel USA Wrestling Club, check out their official website ... and, to learn more about international wrestling exchange opportunities, contact coach Don Pendoski directly at ed.pendoski@carmelusawrestling.org.

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