Jesse Thielke at Final X Stillwater (Photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The World Team spots are now filled across men's and women's freestyle and Greco-Roman and a team that quietly makes up a large part of the contingent heading to Serbia in September, is the Army World Class Athlete Program.
The Army World Class Athlete Program "Allows top-ranked Soldier-athletes to perform at the international level while also serving their nation in the military."
Each "Soldier-Athlete" is required to complete some form of Army IET which typically consists of Basic Training and AIT, or for officers, some form of OCS, ROTC, Academy schooling, and BOLC. They hold an MOS and rank just the same as any other soldier and are required to maintain their appropriate readiness by completing physical fitness tests, medical requirements, and various other tasks. To get promoted they must go to the appropriate NCOES or OES and pass all the same requirements most regular Army Soldiers must complete.
Naturally, there are still some differences in their experience's comparative to other soldiers, their predominant focus is wrestling, but the "Soldier-Athlete" concept is a very real merging of the two.
Their dominance in Greco is hard to ignore. They had five wrestlers win their series at Final X, making up half of the lineup heading to Serbia.
55 KG-SSG Max Nowry
60 KG-SGT Ildar Hafizov
63 KG-SPC Jesse Thielke
67 KG-SPC Alejandro Sancho
77 KG-PFC Kamal Bey
Two of those finals included fellow WCAP wrestlers as did 82 KG, where SPC Spencer Woods fell to Ben Provisor. Hafizov defeated WCAP wrestler Dalton Roberts and Bey beat teammate Britton Holmes.
Jesse Thielke on his WCAP experience:
"Basic and our job training was definitely a bit of a culture shock for me. But I was made for this, I was made to be a Soldier-athlete. I was made to be a part of this team. It's been wonderful. Different in ways I never could have told you, predicted or imagined, but wonderful all the same."
"I think the biggest thing is accountability. People like Alejandro Sancho… Ellis Coleman, and Michael Hooker were here with me every step of the way. When I say I want to do something, they hold me to it. And that's from the top down. It starts with our leadership, way at the top, all the way down to our Commander and 1SGT, to us. It's something when I got to Basic and AIT, that was the culture shock, that was the adjustment. Once I made that, everything has gone beautifully. I couldn't be happier."
Bolstered by 2021 World Medalist Jenna Burkert, who unfortunately suffered an injury last week at Final X-Stillwater after winning the first bout in her series with Jacarra Winchester, the women's team has shared a large amount of success as well.
Though Burkert was unable to continue competing, her influence and mentorship helped guide Abby Nette to a Final X win over Lexie Basham and the 59 KG spot.
When asked about Jenna's leadership in the room Nette stated it's been a big influence on her.
"Absolutely! We go together most of the time. She kicks the dog *beep* out of me… But she's also a person who can sit down and talk to me about it. She's basically helping me become the next thing in the Army and I really appreciate that and I really appreciate everything she's done for me."
In just two months in the program, Nette believes it's been great for her.
"It's a great program, I think everyone should join… It's a good thing to be in a room full of great energy, to be in a room full of winners. We're not just winners, we're a family… Knowing those people are behind me helps me out there."