Adam Wheeler at the 2008 Olympic Games (Photo/Larry Slater)
The wrestling community loves an "overcoming adversity" story.
Adam Wheeler's life is the very definition of that term, growing up in a single-parent home with serious economic struggles -- not to mention a couple major medical challenges -- to become an Olympic bronze medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling at 96 kilograms/211 pounds at the 2008 Beijing Games who has since served as a police officer, then as a firefighter.
Now Wheeler shares his inspirational real-life story in his new book, Believe and Achieve: Overcoming Obstacles to Excel, written along with respected wrestling writer Craig Sesker.
The early years: A life of struggle on and off the mat
Adam Wheeler was born and raised in Lancaster, California about an hour north of Los Angeles. "To say my childhood was tumultuous would be an understatement," the future Olympian wrote in the opening chapter of Believe and Achieve. "I overcame more than my share of challenges and obstacles while growing up in Southern California."
Wheeler's father left the family when his son was three. Adam, his mom, brother and sister struggled with life, having to move frequently. In seventh grade, Wheeler recalls not having any Christmas presents.
In addition to being raised by a single mom, Wheeler faced a life-threatening situation: he nearly died at eleven months from a rare blood disease, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome.
Wheeler made a full recovery, going out for baseball as a youngster. He first took up wrestling as a high school freshman. "My only exposure to the sport was Saved By The Bell," according to Wheeler.
At first, Wheeler struggled in the sport; the future Olympian was 1-15 in first year of high school. Wheeler had other struggles off the mat, skipping classes and eventually getting booted from school. However, thanks to the support of his high school coach, Wheeler attended another school and was able to make up for lost time and classes ... and earn his way back onto the wrestling team at his original school. By his junior year, Wheeler was 37-7 ... and received a grant to participate in J Robinson's Intensive Camp. After graduation, he was signed up for the U.S. Coast Guard, and was able to advance his mat career to higher levels, eventually earning a place on the U.S. Greco-Roman Olympic team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and, ultimately, a bronze medal.
How the book came together
"Right after the Olympics, a guy in California said, 'I think you've got a great story. We should do a screenplay,'" Wheeler told InterMat.
"More recently, people -- friends, family -- have told me, 'You need to write a book.'"
Later, as Wheeler got on with his life beyond wrestling -- first as a SWAT team member in Colorado Springs, then, serving as a Denver firefighter -- he was approached by yet another writer about writing a book ... but went another direction. "I thought of Craig Sesker and he thought my story was worth telling," said Wheeler.
Sesker gathered info by interviewing Wheeler by phone, "starting from the beginning," as the former wrestler put it. "He'd write a chapter, send it, and I'd read it and comment on it."
"Craig added so much to the telling of my story," Wheeler said. "For example, he added a lot of historical information by researching the Olympics."
"I had been nervous about doing a book," Wheeler disclosed. "A friend who is a big-time MMA coach said something like, 'If you can make a positive difference to inspire them to overcome challenges, then it's definitely worth it."
A compelling real-life story, well told
Adam Wheeler's life story would make a great novel, only it's his actual life. Believe and Achieve is full of incredible twists and turns, and moments of great suspense on and off the wrestling mat. One of the most riveting sections is Wheeler's account of his involvement as a SWAT officer in a November 2015 mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs which left three dead (including one police officer) and nine injured (including five officers).
Another particularly strong point is Wheeler's account of the 2008 Beijing Olympics that goes beyond providing a clinical move-by-move analysis of what happened on the mat. Believe and Achieve takes readers deep inside the Games, serving up a powerful you-are-there perspective of the Games that normally only an Olympic athlete would experience.
Believe and Achieve is highly readable, thanks in large part to its conversational writing style. It offers an inspirational, uplifting presentation that is appropriate for all ages ... and, in fact, would be a powerfully motivating read for an entire wrestling team.
"I wanted to make a book to show how I applied what I learned from wrestling which has been so important in building mental toughness and grit necessary for jobs like being on a SWAT team or a major city fire department," Wheeler told InterMat.
He succeeded spectacularly.
Adam Wheeler's Believe and Achieve: Overcoming Obstacles to Excel is available for purchase from Amazon. To request a signed copy -- or to purchase multiple copies for schools and wrestling teams -- contact Adam Wheeler directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.