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Olympic dreams: Wrestler leaves the mat with no regrets

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

Whether he won, lost or drew, Mark Battaglino said he’d have no regrets about participating in the Final U.S. Olympic Trials Qualifying Tournament in Cedar Falls, Iowa, last weekend. And though his two matches didn’t go his way, Battaglino was true to his word, walking away from the tourney with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

“It was a great trip,” said Battaglino, who at age 41 was one of the older competitors in the field. “My family and I had an awesome time. I wouldn’t change anything about it.”

Raised in upstate New York, Battaglino got started in wrestling as a youth and his love for the sport continues. He is a volunteer assistant with the Waccamaw High wrestling team and also competed in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in 2008.

His trip to Cedar Falls marked the 30th anniversary of the first time he attended a wrestling match.

“It was interesting that it worked out that way,” Battaglino said. “It made the weekend even more unique, especially for my dad and I.”

Battaglino was thrown into the fire early in Cedar Falls, matching up in the first round against top-seeded Kyle Hutter, a former All-American grappler from Old Dominion.

“I felt like I was standing in wet cement,” Battaglino said with a laugh. “Both of the guys I wrestled were young, lanky and fast. All of those factors gave them an advantage, plus they are great wrestlers. I definitely came away with even more respect for their abilities.”

Making weight in the 55 kilogram (121 pound) weight class was more than a year-long effort for Battaglino as he shaved off more than 20 pounds from his 5-foot-2, 145-pound frame. It was a process that included daily 10-mile runs, strength training, swimming, mat exercises and, of course, the self-discipline to maintain a strict diet.

“The biggest struggle toward the end was making weight,” Battaglino said. “I felt a little drained and that was obviously a difference between myself and the younger guys who were there. They’re able to recover a lot quicker than I can at my age.”

Battaglino’s wife, Michele, joked that as soon as the tournament ended she and her husband would celebrate with a cheeseburger and the couple made good on that promise.

“I’ve had burgers, steak, lasagne, just about everything,” Battaglino said. “All of that showed when I got on the scale the other day. My weight is already coming back.”

And while Battaglino plans to stay active with the Waccamaw High wrestling team, his own competitive days on the mat may be behind him. Or are they….

“At my age, I think my mind is willing, but my body may not be able,” Battaglino said. “I probably feel more drained than I ever have. I think that is a sign that it may be time to walk away.

“Of course, that is easy to say right now. I’ve said that before, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

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