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Wrestling Without Borders

The Wyoming Seminary girls team at the 2021 Ultimate Club Duals (photo/USA wrestling)


Tomorrow, the Tallinn Open, which is the largest wrestling tournament in Europe, will begin. Held every year in Estonia, over 2,000 wrestlers from 24 different countries attend and compete at various levels and age groups. Due to Covid, this illustrious tournament was canceled the past two years, but for the first time since 2019, the Tallinn Open is making its return! Despite a major war taking place just a 20 hours drive south of the renowned tournament, wrestlers are gearing up to fearlessly compete; including a team from the US, led by Erin Vandiver (Tomeo), a former 2x Senior world team member, 2x Cadet world bronze medalist, 2x Olympic Team Coach (London and Rio), and a US National Team coach for 8 years, along with her husband, Chad Vandiver, a former Greco-Roman wrestler who was a US Senior Open finalist and 2x Olympic team trials qualifier and the head coach at Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, PA - I know, their resumes are truly remarkable!

The girls team at Wyoming Seminary is the National Development Program, which includes talented athletes from all over the country training and competing in freestyle. The program is in its fifth year and has traveled to a half dozen countries to compete, and hosted multiple international events on their campus. Despite the long trip across the ocean, our team doesn't seem to be the one with the furthest road to travel. There are approximately 30 Ukrainian wrestlers that are making their way to the Tallinn Open despite their country being in the midst of war. The Ukrainian athletes escaped Ukraine as Russia invaded and were dispersed throughout Europe.

The tournament is providing free accommodations, entry, and meals for the Ukrainian wrestlers during the tournament and the four-day training camp. A majority of these wrestlers will leave the tournament and go wherever they can throughout Europe, to escape the war. It is very unlikely any will travel back to Ukraine as their homes, communities and families have already been drastically affected by this war. The Wyoming Seminary team and coaching staff want to help provide these wrestlers with the means to purchase what they need, and also provide supplies these young wrestlers can physically carry with them in their bags.

"Our plan is to physically provide cash and essential items such as food, clothing, and supplies directly to the Ukrainian athletes. We are not giving money to any governmental entity," Chad Vandiver shared, "I plan to provide at least $100 cash and supplies to the wrestlers regardless of how much we raise."

Chad stated these efforts are being led by a team comprised of himself, his wife, the assistant coach, and the wrestlers at Wyoming Seminary, who plan to physically present these gifts directly into the hands of the Ukrainian wrestlers. The team left from Newark on Thursday and planned to wrestle Team Europe in a 12-match friendly women's dual meet, while the women's tournament takes place on Sunday.

This announcement came somewhat last minute, as the tournament publicly announced just a few days ago that they would provide rooms, entry, and meals for any displaced Ukrainian wrestlers. The Wyoming Seminary staff wasted no time in creating a campaign to aid the efforts. This is what makes the wrestling community incredible, what sets it apart from other sports. Although competing against one another on the mat, these athletes come together to help their fellow competitors in their time of need.

It is said without any argument, these Ukrainian wrestlers are in need of our help. Most of which escaped with only the clothes on their backs, leaving behind their homes, their belongings, and even their family members to escape a war they had zero control over. This is our opportunity as a community to not only show our support for our team, as we support their efforts, but also to support wrestling as a whole, to show the world how strong our community is despite the cultural differences or demands, despite the communication barriers or political parties. We have an opportunity to pour into these athletes who literally have nothing left but their love for the sport and desire to live freely.

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